The American Legation to the Egyptian Ministry for Foreign Affairs24


The American Minister took up with the Minister for Foreign Affairs the question of the promulgation of the new Antiquities Regulation of M. Lacau and the circular letter dated July 26, 1924, addressed to all the institutions then holding concessions, with respect thereto.

In this letter he, M. Lacau, expressed his intentions, under the regulations, as follows:

“It has never been a question of keeping everything. …”

The Egyptian Government “wishes to be able to establish freely, in conformity with general scientific interests, complete and logical series of documents representing the whole of Egyptian civilization. This duty to science fulfilled the Service of Antiquities will always be pleased to give to scientific institutions authorized to excavate, all categories of objects, even important ones, which shall be sufficiently represented in its own collections. It desires in this way to thank and encourage excavators, whose co-operation is valuable to it, and to facilitate the study of ancient Egypt in foreign university centers.”

In a further letter addressed directly to the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of New York, dated April 1, 1925, M. Lacau amplified [Page 70] his intentions in regard to the new regulations in the following language:

“The Egyptian Government seeks to realize a three-fold purpose. It desires:

  • “(1) 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;
  • “(2) To recognize the endeavors manifested by learned societies in the discovery, study and publication of documents concerning Egyptian history and civilization;
  • “(3) To facilitate the study of Egypt in the university centers of foreign countries, by having the said civilization represented there by objects.”

It is believed that the sentiments expressed by the able and scholarly Director of the Service of Antiquities, M. Lacau, in the above letters, are highly commendable and if the regulations were administered in the spirit thus expressed by him no complaint could justly be made by the various expeditions engaged in excavation in Egypt. But the objection is made that this but expresses the personal opinion and sentiment of an individual and that for legal reasons they require the stamp of official approval of the Government, or the Ministry under which he works.

All we ask is that the interpretation put on these regulations by M. Lacau receive official acknowledgment. The American Minister respectfully requests therefore that the substance of M. Lacau’s letters be incorporated in Article 10 of the “Autorisation des Fouilles.”

The Minister has been creditably informed that M. Lacau is agreeable to this proposal.

It is granted—believed—that under the administration of M. Lacau there is little probability that any object will be taken from an excavator to which he is properly entitled. The Minister here called attention to the fact that acquisitions of the Cairo Museum entered in the Livre d’Entrée became part of the Public Domain, but that of recent years it has been the practice to enter many objects in an unofficial catalogue from which they may be removed without any formality and the good intentions of M. Lacau would not be binding on any successor in their present unofficial form.

Article 10 in its original French (translated into English), reads as follows:

“All antiquities found during the entire period of work shall be delivered to the Service of Antiquities. With the exception of those which the said Service shall decide, in its discretion, to give to the beneficiary, they shall form a part of the public domain.”

The Minister having referred to Article 10 in its original French, suggested that an enunciation of the following of his (M. Lacau’s) [Page 71] principles would meet the case from the Minister’s point of view and that they be incorporated in Article 10 of the Excavation Permit, so as to clarify the article in question.

Enunciated Principles To Be Incorporated In Permits Issued by the Egyptian Government

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.

The American Minister expressed the hope—desire—that in due course his Government would be furnished a statement from the Egyptian Foreign Office informing it of the Egyptian Government’s adherence to the principles set forth in the Aide Mémoire.

  1. Transmitted to the Department by the Minister in Egypt as an enclosure to his despatch No. 856, July 23, 1926.