The oldest foreign archaeological organization in Egypt, the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire (IFAO) was founded in December, 1880, as the École Française du Caire. Its mission was to study Egyptian antiquities, history, and philology, as well as “oriental” antiquities (those of other Near Eastern cultures). Gaston Maspero, its first director, drafted a plan of organization and divided the staff between pensionnaires, newly graduated scholars with specific research projects, and chargés de mission, who work for various excavations and research projects. During the early years, members focused their attention on the copying of ancient Egyptian texts and monuments, and began publication of their research in 1883.

In 1898, under the directorship of Émile Chassinat, the name was changed to the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire. Chassinat inaugurated a vast program of excavations all over Egypt and founded the institute press which to date has published more than seven hundred volumes in twenty-five series.

The IFAO is one of the largest foreign archaeological institutes in Cairo. Its established position in Egypt has enabled it to carry out large long-term excavations and restoration projects at major sites ranging in date from prehistoric to Islamic times, supported by a permanent staff and a network of expedition headquarters throughout Egypt. IFAO excavations and documentation projects have included the complete temples of Edfu and Dendera, the tombs and workmen's village at Deir el-Medineh, the early Christian site at Kellia, the tomb of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb of Ti at Saqqara, the treasury of Thutmose I at Karnak North, and sites in the oases of the Western Desert. During the 1960s, the IFAO participated in the UNESCO campaign for the salvage of the Nubian monuments, excavating at the temple of Rameses II at Wadi es-Sebua. It has also collaborated with the Egyptian Department of Antiquities and with other French and foreign institutions.

[See also the biography of Maspero.]


  • Dawson, Warren R., and Eric P. Uphill. Who Was Who in Egyptology. 2d rev. ed. London, 1972.
    See entries for Maspero and Chassinat
  • IFAO. Un siècle de fouilles françaises en Égypte, 1880–1980, à l'occasion du Centenaire de l'École du Caire (IFAO). Cairo, 1981.
    Catalog of exhibition honoring the centennial of the IFAO. Descriptive essays and good photographs for all the sites excavated by the IFAO
  • Vercoutter, Jean. Introduction to Le livre du centenaire de l'Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, 1880–1980. Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale du Caire, Mémoires, vol. 104. Cairo, 1980.
    History of the institute written for its centennial

Susan J. Allen