French archaeological missions abroad: supporting research and heritage protection


Archaeological missions are perhaps the least-known and the most unique of all French scientific cooperation actions. For 70 years, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has supported teams in the field around the world and enabled enduring research excellence. An overview of the missions and aims of France’s archaeological missions abroad.

More than 150 missions are supported each year worldwide. They prompt intense scientific and academic cooperation, the creation of an international research network and the integration of local researchers in excavation teams.

They also enable transfers of knowledge and skills amongst partners, training of young researchers and the promotion of French cutting-edge techniques.

The advisory committee, financing archaeological missions

The advisory committee for French archaeological research abroad is responsible for selecting the scientific projects of these missions with a view to allocating Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs funding.

In 2022 the committee supported:

  • 162 French archaeological missions;
  • in 73 host countries;
  • with a total budget of €1.75 million.

In 2023, it will support 167 missions in 75 countries, with a requested budget of €1.9 million.

Did you know?

The advisory committee for French archaeological research abroad was created in the aftermath of the Second World War at the initiative of General de Gaulle and archaeologist Henri Seyrig.

Archaeological missions abroad: boosting France’s diplomatic outreach

Archaeological missions are a means to maintain a form of contact in a sometimes difficult diplomatic context. They take many forms:

  • Training the next generation of archaeologists;
  • Financing digitization of the archives of the 13 French missions carried out until 2011 on the major Syrian sites;
  • Continuing scientific work in difficult regions through local collaboration.

This archaeological cooperation can also showcase France’s expertise in heritage. For example, the AlUla project in Saudi Arabia began with a Franco-Saudi archaeological mission supported by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs.

Missions are carried out in close cooperation with host countries and in most cases led jointly by a local head of mission. They also contribute to the training of French, local and international students (joint supervision of Master’s and doctoral theses).

Aims of French archaeological cooperation abroad

In December 2019, in order to better steer French archaeology abroad, the Ministry published a report mapping French archaeological missions abroad for the period 2018-2022. This reference document takes stock of French archaeology abroad and presents operational proposals to set down the main focuses of our activities in the medium term.

Read the strategic report on French archaeology abroad

This archaeological policy feeds into the development of heritage cooperation that showcases French expertise.

  • Several Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects (FSPI) projects have been proposed in order to develop cooperation in heritage promotion or training, including in Benin, Sudan, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria and Tunisia.
  • Major partner institutions including the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Louvre Museum and universities also finance French archaeology abroad.

Preservation of heritage in conflict zones

Heritage and its protection are a French priority. The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs therefore supports the work of the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH) and fights the looting of archaeological sites and trafficking in cultural goods.

Since ALIPH’s creation in 2017, which France supported, the Alliance has brought together public and private actors to protect sites and monuments that are essential to the psychological reconstruction of peoples that fall victim to war.

In 2022, France organized ALIPH’s second ALIPH Donor’s Conference under the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, itself committing to contribute a total of $30 million.

The Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs also supports the training of judges and police officers in fighting trafficking in cultural property (FSPI-AGIR project in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, French archaeological mission in Libya, etc.).

Focus on Iraq

Iraq is one of the key centres of French archaeological cooperation abroad. Despite several missions being frozen, the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has funded 10 in Iraq, including 7 in Iraqi Kurdistan, implemented under the strict security required by the local context. Above and beyond training future Iraqi archaeologists, the missions aim to fight looting of sites, which is central to the fight against trafficking in Iraq’s cultural property. An FSPI project in Iraq between 2019 and 2021 helped launch the creation of an archaeological map of Iraqi sites. This map should enable local authorities to identify and secure sites at risk from trafficking.

Prospects for 2023

  • Developing archaeological cooperation in Asia and Oceania, with four new missions in Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand and Vanuatu;
  • Expanding archaeological cooperation in Africa and the Indian Ocean, with two new projects in Madagascar and Angola;
  • Strengthening the coordination of excavations with heritage promotion projects;
  • Enhancing the role of archaeological missions in heritage protection, with sustained French engagement in ALIPH.

Updated : April 2023

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