Archaeological Collections Administration – Egypt’s SCA Expands to Facilitate New Antiquities Protection Law

Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities is to expand, with the addition of a new department for archaeological collections. Among its duties will be the registration of privately owned artefacts, as well as supervising the transfers of ownership on these items. The Archaeological Collections Administration is established to facilitate the execution of the newly amended Antiquities Protection Law. The announcement comes only days after Egypt held its first conference on the repatriation of artefacts, showing that Egypt’s focus is not just on retrieving looting antiquities from foreign collections, but mapping and saveguarding those ‘at home’ as well.

Farouk Hosni, Egypt’s Minister of Culture, announced the establishment of the first department for archaeological collections, the Archaeological Collections Administration (ACA), as a part of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). The new division will be responsible for determining the archaeological status of transferred individual or institutional collections in accordance with the recently amended Antiquities Protection Law.

Those amendments lead to tougher punishments for theft and smuggling of ancient treasures, as well as cancelling the percentage of movable antiquities that were previously granted to ‘outstanding’ foreign excavation missions who discovered then. Division of any newly discovered objects is now prohibited by law. The recent amendment to the 1983 Law on the Protection of Antiquities also requires Egyptians who own antiquities to report their possessions to the Supreme Council of Antiquities, allowing them six months in which to do so. The council then has the right to claim the antiquity from the owner, if it offers a reasonable compensation.

The sale of antiquities is still banned, and suggestions to allow licensed antiquities trafficking did not make the new bill. The law does allow possession of antiquities by some individuals, but this is decided on a case by case basis. They can only change hands as a gift – which requires the council’s permission as well – or be passed on as part of an inheritance.

Egyptian archaeologist Dr. Hussein Bassir was appointed as director for the new department, which will be located at the SCA headquarters in Zamalek (Cairo), with local offices in various governorates.

Dr. Zahi Hawass said that a number of experienced archaeologists would be working with this department. Professionals from the SCA as well as advisors with the proper expertise would examine artefacts owned by individuals or institutions in accordance with articles 1 and 2 of the new Antiquities Protection Law.

The Archaeological Collections Administration will be responsible for accurately registering the privately owned pieces using modern registration techniques. It will supervise the transfer of ownership of the objects from private individuals to the government either by purchase, through donation, or by inheritance, as the trafficking of antiquities – or destruction of them – is illegal.

“The department will receive requests to register privately owned objects at which point it will examine the pieces in order to determine their authenticity,” said Dr. Hussein Bassir. The section will then proceed to accept them as donation should the current owner wish so, or purchase them on behalf of the SCA. The artefacts will be stored in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and later on be displayed in newly constructed regional museums.