By: Marzieh Yazdani

According to existing records, the French archaeologists were the first foreign groups that performed excavation work in Iran. The first French archaeologists, led by Dieulafoy, started their excavation work for the first time in Susa historical town south of Iran in 1885 and continued their operation in the Iranian historical sites uninterrupted until 1979.

Besides giving a history of the archaeological explorations in Iran, this article refers to the different rules and regulations enforced and implemented by Iranian governments with regard to excavation work and theft of Iranian cultural relics by foreigners.

The history of discovery of Iran by Europeans started with the awakening of an spirit of domination in the West i.e. from the date that the Western expansionism began with the inflow of many travelers, merchants, geographers and curious scientists and scholars into other countries. With the beginning of European enlightenment, many such ambassadors headed towards East including Iran from Europe. The existing records in our archives show that only during the second half of the seventeenth century, 147 travel books were written by French travelers about East of which 52 books were related to Iran (1).

In the same manner during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a number of Europeans traveled to Iran to visit Persepolis and Susa. Following these visits, two British historiographers, called Loftus and Colonel Williams, traveled to Iran and had the honor to discover the coronation hall of kings following Darius and to determine the exact location of the Apadana Palace (2).

These travelers recorded their findings in a series of memoirs which was wholly new and unprecedented in those times. But like Rawlinson, Texier and Flandin their research and study works were theoretical because no such study had been conducted previous to that. Meanwhile these travelers lacked necessary research equipment. Nevertheless discovery of cuneiform stone tablets by these travelers, raised the value of the preliminary findings in Iran.

Since without a knowledge of the history of Elam whose history was earlier than the Iranian civilization, a preliminary knowledge on the history of Iranian plateau was impossible, at their first inquiries Susa was chosen for scientific research as capital of Elam. In fact Elam was neighboring the Iranian mountainous plateau which contained immense natural and water resources (3) which had created special agricultural and economical status and dazzling wealth and civilization in Susa and was concealing an ancient history in its bosom (4).

According to the majority of historiographers such an exceptional wealth in Susa which neighbored the brilliant civilization of Mesopotamia, had led to the political domination of the Iranian plateau by the Elamite Dynasty (5).

In fact the favorable conditions of the government of Elam, its economic prosperity, ability to use metals and earthenware and discovery of cuneiform writings by the Elamite citizens, had served as a prelude to the Iranian art (6). For these reasons Susa was unearthed and explored as one of the most important regions of primitive civilization in the Iranian plateau by archaeologists.

Based on available records, France was the first country that conducted a planned scientific and excavation works in Iran (7). In this stage it will not be out of place to first of all examine the method of performance of foreign scientific teams which were symbols of the Western civilization and its domination over countries such as Iran. According to Dr. Abdolhadi Hayeri two perspectives or methods of approach should be understood from the Western civilization in connection with the presence of Western scientists in Iran.

In the first perspective, a study of the method of operation of foreign scientists and expertise in Iran, particularly the first group of archaeologists, reveals that undoubtedly a need for complementing their information on ancient civilizations necessitated their presence in Iran. Therefore, although their excavations and scientific studies were of paramount importance from the point of view of archaeological science for the discovery of the Iranian pre-Islamic history, one must not forget that such studies were the result of intellectual revolutions following the intellectual enlightenment in Europe and scientific appeal by the West for more information. With such an objective in mind, surely the achievements of the West did not serve Iranian interests.

The second perspective is its imperialist and colonialist attitude. Because the first presence of scientific teams in Iran was not prompted from a cultural need or growth of archaeological science. It was an imposed operation which was connected to the influence of foreigners in Iran. For this reason and based on colonialist and expansionist attitudes, many discovered treasures and relics were transferred directly to Europe and Iran's portion in this adventure was to thank the West for helping to discover and introduce her ancient history.

Since the French excavators and historiographers were the first foreign visitors in Iran and had a much older record and larger presence in our country, we will first begin with the archaeological findings of the French travelers.

The French team

The first step for scientific explorations in Susa commenced at the beginning of 1885 by French engineer Dieulafoy who was assigned to study and make excavations in the historical ruins of Keykhosrow, Darab (Darius), Shapour and the surroundings of Susa and Dezfoul (8).

Nassereddin Shah permitted Dieulafoy to conduct the excavations at a time that he was ignorant of the benefits of the studies of the Iranian ruined buildings for the French Government (9). Nevertheless, Dieulafoy along with his wife and two young French citizens succeeded to unearth the Apadana Palace at Susa (10).

Such an extraordinary feat by the French team increased the interest of other French scientists to visit the region and the discoveries made by Dieulafoy were beyond the expectation of the most optimistic scientists. Agreements reached with Nassereddin Shah in the following years to complete the concessions granted to the French archaeologists, verifies this fact. For example chapters six and seven of the copy of documents dated 1895 in the archives stipulates: "Discovered valuable objects such as gold, silver or jewelry will be the property of the Iranian government, but since the French officials have taken a lot of pain to unearth the objects, the Iranian government is permitted to sell half of these antiques to the French team at a reasonable price and should the government decide to sell the other half, the French government will be given the first priority."

Chapter 7 states: "The archaeologists are permitted to make drawing and molds of engravings, statutes or inscriptions and half of the articles discovered will be owned by the French government (11). The emphasis on the Iranian right and entering the above clause in the chapters of the monopoly agreements in all these years were probably not aimed to revive the Iranian history and culture in the country, but through certain agents they were telling the king that they were willing to sell Iran's portion of the finds to other countries which were interested to buy them. It must be noted that such transactions were not hidden to Nassereddin Shah, because in his visit to an exhibition in Paris in his third leg of trip to Europe he referred to the role of Richard, a certain English language teacher at Darolfonoun (Iranian college) with regard to purchase of antique Iranian objects.

Nassereddin Shah says: "Richard has purchased these coins and old paintings from even Iranian middlemen or other Iranian nationals at a price of one thousand tomans and has displayed them in an exhibition in Paris and an British collector from the British Museum has purchased them at 8 thousand Pounds Sterlings (equivalent to thirty thousand tomans) from Richard and he will carry the objects to British Museum when the exhibition is over (12). The king expressed his pleasure for exhibition of Iranian relics in Paris and London museums and for this reason he decided to deliver all the ancient objects unearthed in Susa to the French agents." (13)

Following such benevolent deeds by Nassereddin Shah from 1985 onward, Monsieur de Balloy, the French ambassador in Iran, and Nassereddin Shah's representatives granted Paris exclusive rights to make excavation throughout the country. In 1897 upon the verdict of the committee in charge of scientific and literary assignments, the government in Paris assigned Monsieur de Morgan, the former director of antique objects in Egypt, to make excavations of ancient monuments in Iran. Monsieur de Morgan traveled twice to Iran under the Qajar kings and at each trip he took away valuable collections of ancient relics to Paris (14).

In 1900 an agreement was signed with Muzaffareddin Shah in Paris which completed the context of the agreement dated 1895. According to that revised agreement France was granted exclusive concessions to make permanent excavations and dig out artistic and historical and ancient objects throughout Iran (15).

On the basis of the said agreement "with the exception of Susa" half of the discovered items in the excavations in Iran were required to be delivered to Iran. But more than other regions the French had invested their scientific capital in Susa because on the basis of the above amended agreement all the recovered items and objects in Susa region belonged to the French. Taking into account all the concessions granted for the Susa civilization compound, surely the efforts of the French archaeologists in Susa earned the most precious and important historical wealth for the French.

On the basis of this concession the French excavations covered all the private and government owned lands and properties and no one was permitted to make any research in any other region in Iran without the permission of the French government (16). Monsieur de Morgan, the head of the French archaeologists, traveled twice to Iran in 1897 and 1911 and regularly examined historical sites with the financial assistance of the French government and personally monitored the excavation works. This archaeological team discovered many historical and precious objects of which the outstanding samples are available in the Louvre Museum in Paris (17). In these assignments De Morgan was assisted by French archaeologists such as Lampre, Jequier, Gautier, Watelin, Andre, Toscanne, Pillet and particularly by P. Scheil who was the most informed expert of the Assyrian Kingdom (18).

After the Constitutional Revolution in Iran and establishment of the parliament, one of the privileges criticized by the parliament was granting of exclusive rights to the French archaeological team. In 1911 the parliament introduced an act which canceled all the monopoly concessions granted to the French nationals. The act prohibited any historical excavations throughout Iran without prior permission of the Iranian government and the government was permitted to retain between 20 to 40 percent of the recovered items. (19)

These things were happening exactly at a time when De Mecquenem was assigned to the Susa excavation site instead of De Morgan. Emil Le Soeur believes that the French scientific team in 1913 protested to that act and through the persistent interference and influence of Monsieur Lecomte, the French ambassador in Iran, the act was not even deliberated for voting in the Iranian parliament. (20)

As a result, the French excavations continued until 1914. In that year the First World War put a stop to excavation works in Iran and the French archaeologists returned to their country. But in order to perpetuate their presence in Iran, the French government decided that Messieurs P. Sheil and De Mecquenem should remain in Iran until the termination of the war as the official managers of the excavation sites. (21)

In fact by proposing new regulations concerning historical excavations in Iran, the legislative body was trying to cancel the exclusive dominating rights of the French in the historical excavations. On the other hand since there was talk of the nation's need for scientific and expertise advancements, the need for presence of foreigners for continuation of scientific activities was deemed inevitable.

Nevertheless, a British protest against French monopolistic operations in Iran was enough to reduce their influence in our country. But the legislators had apparently based their arguments on theft of antique objects which was frequently happening at the time.

After introduction of regulations that waived the exclusive concessions granted to the French by the Majlis, not only exodus of illegal antique objects from Iran did not stop but in addition to the French agents other excavation teams from Germany, England and the United States entered the lucrative market.

A review and examination of the documents in the Iranian National Archives corroborates this fact (22). Based on these records, besides the operation of other archaeologists in Iran one might follow up the activities of the French in Susa until 1928 (23). In that year Monsieur de Mecquenem was the director of the French excavation team in Susa and the difference between the condition of excavations during the first Pahlavi king and that of Qajars was the time limit imposed on granted concessions.

Documents in the archives indicate that the concessions during the Pahlavi reign were granted for a 5 year period and the Ministry of Finance and Culture was assigned to supervise over the agreements (24). Due to increase of applicants for historical excavations in Iran as well as antique merchants, the cabinet approved a directive containing 32 articles in 1930 for protection of the antique relics discovered from excavation and handling of the antique objects. While describing the requirements of the applicants for historical excavations articles 15 and 16 of the said directive stipulates that excavation rights at one or several sites would be granted for a period of one or several years.

Article 16 of that directive also provides that the term of commercial excavations shall not exceed 5 years and is renewable (25). An examination of article 16 of this directive shows that no limit was imposed on the continuation of excavation works by foreigners in Iran and writs of concession were renewable. Only insertion of the phrase "under the supervision of the Iranian government" underlined the Iranian government's role for acquirement of the needed expertise for the Iranian citizens. These documents further reveal that the need for acquirement of expertise knowledge resulted in inclusion of such a clause in agreements concluded for foreign excavation teams at least from 1932 onward. As a result, boxes containing discovered ancient items by French teams were permitted to exit Iran without a need to sell foreign exchange (26) and Monsieur de Mecquenem received permission from the council of ministers to continue his excavation works around Susa for another five years.

In fact one must explore the different political, economic and social aspects of the question in order to find the reason for continued presence of foreigners in Iran. But above all we must examine the tendency for acquirement of knowledge and expertise in Iran. From the beginning when the need for knowledge, scientific and technical advancement - generally known as modernism - was felt, such an enthusiasm led to many reactions. (28)

But eventually efforts for renovation and modernization of Iran were coordinated in such a manner with the Western culture that along with access to foreign expertise their presence in Iran became indispensable for the fundamental development of the nation (29). For example in the field of archaeology such an overall and monopoly scientific expertise was not transferred to Iranians from the foreigners at least until 1953. Two years after the cancellation of the monopoly concessions granted to French archaeologists effective September 1927, Andre Godard, a French citizens, was employed by the ministry of culture and was officially appointed as director general of antique objects and museums in Iran. (30)

During his assignment, Godard did excellent works for the country. His research on Islamic architecture, the bronze works in Lorestan and repair and introduction of historical buildings were outstanding performances. His books: The Iranian Relics and the Iranian Art were considered as valid references for Iranian culture and civilization, but one must note that during his 24 years of assignment as the sole and undisputed official director of department of archeology and museums in Iran he showed utmost stinginess in training Iranian archaeologists and museum staff and did not show any interest in the education of the Iranians in the different branches of that field of science.

During his tenure as the head of antique objects and museums such an expertise information did not pass from the absolute command of Godard or his wife to Iranians (31). This reveals the limited role of the Iranians in these scientific excavations and explorations and a study of the bulk of documents and archaeological reports available in the archives points only to discovery, digging or commerce of ancient relics in different parts of Iran. These activities were handled either legally or illegally through antique sellers most of which were Iranian citizens (32) and consequently no scientific work was conducted by Iranians during these years.

Preparation of a directive for protection of antique objects in 1930 (32) proves that the government was trying to monitor and control the chaotic market of excavation and transaction of antique objects and such activities were separate from foreign scientific studies. In fact the unbridled transaction of Iranian antiques by the Iranian merchants which had continued for a long time, impelled the government to control the transaction of antique objects. Similar to the 5-year agreements signed for scientific excavations, the antique merchants were also required to obtain monopoly agreements for excavation works. A study of these series of documents indicate that the excavation works by Iranians were exclusively intended for export and no document has been discovered in the archives to show that a writ of concession for scientific excavation in these years was concluded (34).

On the other hand the government's direct supervision of excavation and trade of antique objects led to the unemployment of many merchants who were excavating ruins for export of antiques. A letter signed by these unemployed group to the council of ministers in 1931 reveals the unfavorable condition of the Iranian excavations (35).

The idea to make scientific studies by Iranians occurred at a time when the important archaeological expertise was in the exclusive possession of foreign teams and the Iranian antique objects and museums were managed by people such as Andre Godard who was surely thinking of his country's interests instead of Iran. The writs of concession which were exclusively granted to foreign teams were renewed and revalidated until at least 1953 (36) enabling the foreign teams to take full credit for discovery of important historical points (37).

During this period only three Iranians received Ph.D. degrees on archaeology and Iranian art from French universities. These were Mahdi Bahrami, Issa Behnam and Mohsen Moqaddam (38) who, during the reign of Andre Godard, were repeatedly humiliated and insulted by him. Even the outstanding and sundry excavations conducted by several Iranian masters of archaeology in Khorvin and Khorheh in Arak and Tappeh Hassanlou in 1949 were also transferred to an American team from Pennsylvania University (39). As a result, until 1953 the scientific and archaeological operations in Iran were exclusively conducted by foreign teams and the activities of Iranians were limited to the commerce of antique objects in which they had been engaged from the past (40).