The Secretary of State to the Minister in Egypt ( Howell )

No. 249

Sir: The Department refers to its instruction No. 227 of August 6, 1925, and to your replies Nos. 691 and 717 of September 30 and December 4, 1925,2 respectively, regarding the difficulties encountered by certain American archaeological interests in the continuance of their excavation and research work in Egypt as a result of the regulations governing the issuance of excavation permits put into effect in the fall of 1924 by the Egyptian Antiquities Service.

For your further information and guidance, the Department transmits, herewith, copies of its instructions of this date to the Embassies in London and Paris2a recapitulating subsequent developments in this matter and directing those missions to ascertain whether the British and French Governments are now willing to associate themselves in making representations in this matter to the Egyptian Government along the lines set forth in a draft note which the Department is prepared to authorize you to present to the Egyptian Government in the event that no circumstances meanwhile develop which would make desirable any modification of the action proposed. A copy of this draft note, providing in general for representations along the lines of those proposed in the Department’s earlier instruction, is also enclosed.

The Department desires that you furnish, confidentially, your British and French colleagues with copies of this draft note and ascertain from them whether they are in a position to make representations of a similar character or to support the representations which you propose to make.

In this connection you will note in the enclosed copies of instructions to the American Embassies in London and Paris that these missions are directed to report briefly to the Department by telegraph the results of the further representations which they are to make, [Page 59] respectively, to the British and French Foreign Offices. Upon the receipt of such telegraphic reports the Department will communicate further with your mission. Pending the receipt of such further communication you will of course withhold presentation to the Egyptian Government of the enclosed draft note, the receipt of which you should, however, acknowledge by telegraph with your comments.

In the meantime and in connection with such discussion of this question as you may be able to hold with your British and French colleagues, the Department would be pleased to have you discuss the text of the enclosed draft note with Doctor Breasted,3 Mr. Winlock4 and such other representative American archaeologists in Egypt as you may see fit, impressing upon them, however, the strictly confidential character of such discussions. Representatives of the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York City have already indicated their full concurrence in the subject matter and form of this proposed note, and other archaeological interests in this country have urged the Department to support the general position set forth therein. The Department would be pleased, therefore, to receive through you any observations or views in this matter which may be expressed by interested American archaeologists in Egypt. You should transmit by telegraph to the Department a brief summary of any such observations together with any comment which you may consider appropriate.

I am [etc.]

Frank B. Kellogg

Draft of Proposed Note To Be Presented to the Egyptian Foreign Office by the American Minister

Excellency: Your Excellency is no doubt fully conversant with the extent of the interest which, for upwards of twenty-five years, has been taken by a number of important American scientific societies and museums in archaeological research and excavation in Egypt. The results of the work undertaken by the Egyptian expeditions of these American societies are of signal importance to a scientific understanding of the history and humanities of antiquity. The work itself has been rendered possible largely by the generous appropriations of money made by such representative American institutions.

It is my understanding that, from 1912 to 1922, excavations in this country were conducted under the terms of concessions granted in each case by the Egyptian Antiquities Service in accordance with the Antiquities Law of 1912. Article 11 of this Law, in its application [Page 60] to properly authorized archaeological expeditions, provides that the discoverer of a movable antiquity shall receive as a reward “one-half of the objects so discovered or of their value.” Under the régime thus established the Egyptian Antiquities Service, through the many and important objects which it has constantly received from the work of these foreign archaeological expeditions, has profited largely in building up its own national collection, a collection which I would venture to describe as now unquestionably the finest and most representative collection of national antiquities to be found in any country. At the same time the various interested American museums have been enabled to create and develop representative collections illustrating the history and art of ancient Egypt. I may mention in this latter connection that these collections have proved of far-reaching educational value to the schools and universities of the United States, and have been responsible for fostering the increasingly strong interest amongst the American people in both ancient and present-day Egypt, a fact which has led an increasing number of American travellers to visit Egypt each year.

It was the assurance, contained in the law of 1912, that the interested American scientific societies and museums would receive a fair share of the antiquities thus discovered, which, in the opinion of the trustees of those institutions, warranted their appropriating, from the funds at their disposal, the large sums of money necessary for the financing of their Egyptian expeditions.

Under date of October 10, 1922, each of the American concessionaires, then conducting archaeological excavations in Egypt, was informed by the Antiquities Service that the Antiquities Law of 1912 was to be changed and that, after the season 1922–1923, the Service would no longer be bound to divide equally with the concessionaires the results of their excavations, but that, under regulations which had been prepared but not yet put into effect, the Director General would be free to retain everything that he deemed important for the national collections. Your Excellency will recall that these new regulations were put into effect as of the beginning of the 1924–1925 season, following the communication to the interested foreign archaeological interests of the form of excavation permit which they would be required to sign and under which they would be authorized to continue their work. I am not aware that, since that date, any change has been made in the form of permit granted to foreign archaeological expeditions. Article 10 of this form of permit sets forth that “all the antiquities found during the entire duration of the work shall be turned over to the Antiquities Service” and that “with the exception of those which the Service shall decide, in its discretion, to give to the beneficiary, they shall form part of the public domain.”

[Page 61]

Later, under date of April 1, 1925, in a letter addressed to the President of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, the Director General of Antiquities stated that in the application of the new regulations the Egyptian Government sought to realize a threefold purpose, as follows:

To have freedom to establish, for its own national collections and in conformity with scientific interests in general, complete and logical series of antiquities representing Egyptian civilization as a whole;
To recognize the endeavors manifested by learned societies in the discovery, study and publication of documents concerning Egyptian history and civilization;
To facilitate the study of Egypt in the university centres of foreign countries, by having the said civilization represented there by objects.

In commenting on this letter, various leading American scientists interested in the question have indicated that, while welcoming the declaration of the Director General, they find it not wholly reassuring in view of the generality of its terms and in view of the fact that, although apparently indicative of the attitude of the Director General, it has never been officially set forth as a declared policy of the Egyptian Government. They feel consequently a natural anxiety that the Egyptian Government should make known officially in public and permanent form its policy regarding the future régime to be applied to foreign archaeological explorations in Egypt. Doubt and uncertainty in this regard, which has existed for the past two years, has already resulted in a curtailment of the archaeological programs of certain of the foreign expeditions and, in the case of one of the largest American expeditions, in a complete suspension of its excavations.

In bringing these matters to the attention of my Government, the interested American institutions have expressed their fullest concurrence in the objects which it is sought to realize as a result of the application of the new regulations governing the issuance and enjoyment of authorizations to undertake archaeological excavations in Egypt, and I am directed by my Government to make clear to Your Excellency that these institutions do not in any way advocate or desire to return to the former inflexible and unscientific basis of equal division of archaeological finds. As already indicated, however, they have, at the same time, expressed the earnest hope that the Egyptian Government will be able to see its way to giving to all foreign archaeological expeditions in Egypt certain important assurances regarding the interpretation of Article 10 of the new form of excavation permit. It should be added also in this connection that, before soliciting the support of the United States Government in this matter, they first entered into detailed discussions with the [Page 62] Director General of Antiquities, discussions which indicated that there was general agreement in the view that Article 10 of the new form of permit could usefully be supplemented by a statement of principles in the following form:

In explanation of its intentions as thus expressed, the Egyptian Government declares that scientific principles clearly require that the Service des Antiquities shall reserve freely for itself all material which it does not already possess. But this same scientific interest requires equally that it shall give largely in the case of all material which it already possesses.

The Service does not wish to keep material for purposes of sale, a course which would be in all respects unfair to excavators. It wishes only to retain such objects as should definitely form a part of the Egyptian public domain.

Likewise it does not wish to keep duplicates or equivalents already well represented in the national collection, since it is not free to sell them. In the same way it does not wish to keep duplicates in order to form reserves which shall serve to reimburse one excavator with the duplicates found by another.

Under these conditions the Government ought logically to give to excavators all material of which it has no need. This implies: (1) that the Government will give even objects of first importance if it already has the equivalent in its collections (the word equivalent is clearer than the word duplicate); (2) that it will give all objects which it does not wish to keep, whether or not in excess of the half of the objects found.

These principles, as they are here expressed, are in full accord with the position taken in this matter by the interested American scientists and archaeologists. I am therefore directed to express to Your Excellency my Government’s hope that appropriate steps will be taken to introduce these principles into the present form of excavation permit, immediately following and in explanation of Article 10, thereby constituting the desired official recognition by Your Excellency’s Government of the assurances sought by the American excavators and museums.

In making the foregoing suggestions I am directed further to make known to Your Excellency that, in the opinion of my Government, an opinion it believes Your Excellency’s Government will share, the work of American nationals in the field of Egyptian archaeology is of such a character as to merit the friendly encouragement and cordial support of the two Governments, an encouragement and support which may, in part, be evidenced in an interpretation of Article 10 of the present form of excavation permit in accordance with the suggestions set forth above. It is with this belief ever in mind that my Government has directed me to address Your Excellency in this matter.

  1. None printed.
  2. Post, pp. 63 and 65.
  3. James H. Breasted, of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum.
  4. H. E. Winlock, Associate Curator, and representative in Egypt, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.