Behind the wide range of archaeological missions deployed in the four corners of the world there is a central group that meets every year at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development: the Advisory Commission for Archaeological Research Abroad, most commonly known as the Excavations Commission. Its purpose is to select and evaluate applications submitted by heads of archaeological missions.
A commission strongly rooted in history
Founded in the wake of the Second World War at the instigation of General de Gaulle and the archaeologist Henri Seyrig, the Commission was swiftly placed under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is the only structure of its kind in the world that has been based on collaboration between diplomacy and French archaeology since the middle of the nineteenth century.
High-level members connected to the field
This Commission, headed by its Secretary-General, brings together some thirty members who contribute expertise to support the Ministry’s decisions. Working alongside top specialists including academics, researchers from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), professors from prestigious research and higher education institutions, (Collège de France, École Pratique des Hautes Études), representatives from museums (Louvre, Guimet, Natural History Museum), are ex officio members representing the Institut de France, CNRS, Ministry of Culture and Communication and French schools abroad. To monitor the projects as effectively as possible, the Commission is divided into five geographical sub-commissions (Ancient Orient, Europe and the Maghreb, Asia and Oceania, the Americas, Africa and the Arabian Peninsula) and their chairpersons and members are archaeologists working in these areas.
Selecting the applications: requirements in several categories
At the end of the year, there were nearly 200 four-year project applications selected for the Commission to review. They are evaluated on the basis of a list of specific criteria. Although scientific excellence, the innovative nature of the projects and the publication of work constitute the first criteria for selection, other factors also come into play.
In line with the priorities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, the Commission takes geostrategic archaeology-related issues into consideration. Deploying missions on five continents, developing productive cooperation, particularly in training, maintaining activities in crisis countries and showcasing unexplored excavation areas are all crucial guidelines for its work.
In addition to support from the Ministry, French archaeological missions have essential contacts abroad. French partners are key and include:
- French research institutes abroad (IFRE) run by the Ministry and the CNRS. These 27 institutes devote a portion of their work to archaeological missions, along with work in history, sociology and political science. Two institutes (in Sudan and Afghanistan) only work on archaeology.
- French schools abroad (in Athens, Rome, Casa de Velazquez in Madrid) run by the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research round out the French research network abroad.
In addition to the extra financial support they provide, these institutions are essential bases in terms of logistics for the heads of mission, who also give classes and hold seminars in their facilities, thereby helping to disseminate work.
It is important to obtain co-financing if the missions are to operate properly. In both France and abroad, there are many partners. Public institutions (CNRS, the National Research Agency, universities), private organizations (Total Foundation, Éveha International) and international organizations (UNESCO, the European Union and its Erasmus Mundus programme) do their part every year in revitalizing French archaeology.
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Updated: January 2017
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