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The Antiquities Service (Edareh-ye ‘Atiqat)

The Ministry of Sciences (Vezarat-e ‘Olum) was created in Iran as far back as the summer of 1866, during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah. However, only after the Constitutional Revolution this ministry was reshaped and now also included the management of national antiquities amongst its responsibilities. In March 1907, when the Council of Ministers was presented for the first time to the National Consultative Assembly (Majles-e Shura-ye Melli), the Ministry of Education (Vezarat-e Ma‘aref va Owqaf va Sanaye‘-e Mostazrafeh) consisted of six administrative sections, including one responsible for archaeological excavations and another for ancient monuments.8 The exact functions and activities of these two sections are not entirely clear due to a lack of detailed sources, but we can imagine that during the period of “minor despotism” under Mohammad ‘Ali Shah (1907-9), when the country was experiencing major disorder, not only was the question of antiquities not on the agenda, but these two sections, like many others, were closed by the Shah. It was therefore only after the second victory of the constitutionalists, in July 1909, that the nationalist revolutionaries turned their attention towards Iran’s heritage. With this in mind, in 1910, the Antiquities Service (Edareh-ye ‘Atiqat) was created for the first time in Iran.9 Most studies concerned with the history of Persian archaeological institutions report incorrectly that this service was founded in 1918.10 However, a ministerial order from 11 May 1910, preserved in the archives of the Cultural Heritage Organization in Tehran, reveals that exactly at that time, Sani‘ al-Dowleh,11 the minister of education, established the Antiquities Service under the direction of the Persian poet Iraj Mirza Jalal al-Mamalek with the task of managing everything concerning antiquities and excavations as well as the art market.12 Iraj Mirza placed both sections, archaeological excavations and ancient monuments, under his authority and already in July 1910 had expanded his scope of action by setting up branches of the Antiquities Service in the provinces. Consequently, the Antiquities Service, located in the building of Dar al-Fonun in Tehran, formally took the title of Central Antiquities Service (Edareh-ye Markazi-e ‘Atiqat) with the following functions and goals:

  • • taxation of antiquities excavated on private lands
  • • prohibition of illegal excavations
  • • formalization and permanent control of commercial excavations
  • • regularization of all cases of excavated objects by adopting the antiquity law of the National Consultative Assembly.13

In June 1910, the Central Antiquities Service wrote a draft law of six articles and sent it to the National Consultative Assembly to be adopted as the Antiquities Law. The Assembly transferred the text to the commission of public instruction, which after writing several amendments, presented it again to the Assembly on 5 January 1911, now comprising eleven articles under the title “bill on antiquities” (qanun-e ‘atiqat). Although this text did not run counter to the French archaeological monopoly, it was removed by the Council of Ministers on 13 April 1911 after the Legation of France intervened and asked for the Franco-Persian archaeological convention of 1900 to be taken into account.14

After two months, while the convention and the proposed bill on antiquities were reviewed in the Council of Ministers, the National Consultative Assembly again discussed this project, from 15 June 1911 onwards. The protocols of this reading, which took place in five sessions, inform us about the views of the deputies at that time with regard to objects found during excavations in Iran. We can distinguish three different groups:

  • • The ‘olama’ considered all archaeological discoveries found on private land as treasure (kanz) that belonged to the owner and upon which the state had no rights. Thus, according to the ‘olama’, it was not necessary to establish the Antiquities Law in order to control excavations on private property or to tax discoveries found on private land.
  • • The merchants opted for the adaptation of the Antiquities Law, but were hostile to a huge tax on antiquities so that excavators could continue their work.
  • • For intellectuals and scholars the ratification of the Antiquities Law was of primordial importance. They were also the proponents of a tax on excavations as well as on the purchase and sale of antiques. Moreover, they envisioned the creation of a National Museum in order to preserve Persian antiquities.15

On 17 June 1911, after the first reading of the bill on antiquities, the majority of the deputies voted for this project. However, it was never applied, and was

de facto forgotten. With no law on excavated objects and with only one non- ratified law, the administration headed by Iraj Mirza, which since September 1910 was named the General Antiquities Service (Edareh-ye Koll-e ‘Atiqat), could neither forbid clandestine excavations nor tax antiquities in the art market. All this led to the dissolution of the General Antiquities Service on 8 October 1911, only eighteen months after its establishment.16

As a consequence, taxation of the antiquities market and the process of formalizing Iranian commercial excavations were suspended. According to the administrative law of the Ministry of Education, the Sciences Service (Edareh-ye Ma‘aref) henceforth looked after the affairs of antiquities in the country for a period of approximately one year. During that time, the most important event was the attempt of the Ministry of Education to try to modify the French Archaeological monopoly.17

This attempt, although it did not succeed, further threatened the French archaeological interests in Iran and lead Jacques de Morgan in October 1911 to prepare a text in which he proposed the modifications relative to the Convention of 1900. He wrote this text entitled “Projet de Convention et Observation” for possible negotiations with the Iranian government. In this draft, which was never implemented, he both stated and limited in geographical terms the excavations of the French delegation, while protecting the absolute archaeological interests of France for a period of 99 years. However, given the circumstances of that time, it became clear that the Persian authorities would not be satisfied with small changes. This is clear from the fact that in October 1912 the Iranian Ministry of Education set up a “Commission of Excavations” in order to reconsider the French archaeological monopoly and present modifications on the Franco-Persian convention of 1900.18 Thus, after long negotiations, on 7 December 1912, the Commission drew up an amended text consisting of a preamble and twelve articles. According to this draft, the original of which is kept in the Iranian National Archives, the right to conduct archaeological excavations throughout Iran was granted to France for a period of fifty years, subject to the sharing of discoveries including those of Susa. In return for this privilege, the French government would undertake to help Iran in the construction of an archaeological museum in Tehran.19

In December 1912, the Iranian Ministry of Education sent a copy of this modified project to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to share it with the French authorities, through the mediation of Samad Khan Momtaz al-Saltaneh, then Persian plenipotentiary minister in Paris.20 However, no trace of this document can be found in the French archives. We are therefore unaware of the ultimate outcome of these efforts from both sides before the First World War to reconsider and possibly modify the French archaeological privilege. We only know that in May 1913, the Persian government took up the idea to modify the French monopoly and hired a Belgian architect to prepare a proposal for the reorganization of archaeological excavations in Iran. However, following protests from the French Legation in Tehran, this decision was cancelled and the idea of modifications of the archaeological monopoly again came to naught.21

On 23 April 1914, Hakim al-Molk,22 then minister of education, sent a request to the Council of Ministers asking to re-establish the Antiquities Service. He briefly mentioned the history of the creation of the Antiquities Service four years earlier, the success of this organization during its 18 months in operation, and finally its discontinuation because of a lack of an antiquities law. Hakim al-Molk concluded his letter by wishing that this Service would be restored and that the draft Antiquities Law, suspended for several years in the National Consultative Assembly, would be adopted.23

Hakim al-Molk’s request was welcomed by the Council of Ministers and the Antiquities Service was re-established during the summer of 1914 under the direction of Hoseyn Khan Amini, who replaced Iraj Mirza.24 Despite the re-establishment of the Antiquities Service, the bill remained un-ratified and the Service was forced to make do with its internal regulation to manage the affairs of the country’s antiquities.

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