The Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) was a department within the Egyptian Ministry of Culture from 1994 until January 2011, when it became an independent ministry, the Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA). It was the government body responsible for the conservation, protection and regulation of all antiquities and archaeological excavations in Egypt.
The SCA's origins go back to 1859, when the Department of Antiquities was established. In 1971, it was renamed the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation. It was finally renamed the Supreme Council of Antiquities by Presidential Decree No. 82 of Hosni Mubarak in 1994.
The SCA was responsible for defining the boundaries around archaeological sites and was also the only agent permitted to restore or preserve Egyptian monuments. Foreign archaeologists working in Egypt were required to report all discoveries and finds to the SCA before publication, a somewhat controversial rule that led to the expulsion of some archaeologists from Egypt. This requirement although controversial has reduced theft of archaeological finds dramatically and allows authorities to plan security around new finds that would not be possible any other way. The SCA also oversaw the recovery of antiquities either stolen or illegally exported from Egypt, and between 2002 and 2008 retrieved 3,000 artifacts. It is currently embroiled in a dispute with the Egyptian Museum of Berlin over the bust of Nefertiti, which it claims was removed from the country by deceit. Previously it has asked for the return of the Rosetta Stone from the British Museum and the Dendara Zodiac from the Louvre.
The SCA was governed by an Administrative Council, headed by the Minister of Culture, and a Secretary General.
Those who serve to preserve antiquities are in charge of the conservation and preservation of antiquities, as well as research and often give interviews and report on discoveries and work being done. In the 21st century they also face the difficult task of keeping monuments safe from a fringe of Islamist radicals who want the destruction of pharanoic monuments. Their official titles, depending on the years they served, have ranged from Director, to Director-General, to Chairman to Minister. The position may entail also, as was done by Zahi Hawass for many years, to stimulate tourism to Egypt, with charm and charisma.
In its early history "Gaston Maspero served as Director General of the Excavations and Antiquities of Egypt and his big achievement was his examination of the mummy of Ramses II, found in 1884, in the presence of the khédive and other high dignitaries. The mummy of this great conqueror was well preserved, revealing a giant frame and a face expressive of sovereign majesty, indomitable will, and the pride of the Egyptian king of kings. He then unbandaged the mummy of Nofritari, wife of King Ahmosis I. of the eighteenth dynasty, beside which, in the same sarcophagus, had been discovered the mummy of Ramses III. The physiognomy of this monarch is more refined and intellectual than that of his warlike predecessor; nor was his frame built upon the same colossal plan. The height of the body was less, and the shoulders not so wide. In the same season Maspero also discovered an ancient Egyptian romance inscribed on limestone near the tomb of Sinûhît at Thebes. A fragment on papyrus had been preserved at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, but the whole romance was now decipherable."
"Professor Maspero resigned his office of directorship on June 5, 1886, and was succeeded in the superintendency of excavations and Egyptian archeology by M. Eugene Grébault. In the same month Grébault started upon the work of unbandaging the mummy of the Theban King Sekenenra Ta-aken, of the eighteenth dynasty. It was under this monarch that a revolt against the Hyksôs, or Shepherd Kings, had originated, in the course of which the Asiatics were expelled from Egypt. The history of this king has always been considered legendary, but from the signs of wounds present in the mummy, it is certain that he had died in battle. In the same season the mummy of Seti I. was unbandaged, and also that of an anonymous prince."
"The next season the work of clearing away the sand from around the Great Sphinx was vigorously prosecuted by Grébault. In the beginning of the year 1887, the chest, the paws, the altar, and plateau were all made visible. Flights of steps were unearthed, and finally accurate measurements were taken of the great figures. The height from the lowest of the steps was found to be one hundred feet, and the space between the paws was found to be thirty-five feet long and ten feet wide. Here there was formerly an altar; and a stele of Thûtmosis IV. was discovered, recording a dream in which he was ordered to clear away the sand that even then was gathering round the site of the Sphinx."
More than 100 years later, Sayed Tawfik was an Egyptologist who served from 1989–1990, when the body was called the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. Among those who directed it when its official name was Supreme Council of Antiquities are Zahi Hawass (2002–2011), Mohamed Abdel Fattah (July-September 2011) and Moustapha Amine (29 September 2011–2013). Under its new official name, Ministry of State for Antiquities, Abdel Fattah al-Banna was nominated but he withdrew his nomination. In 2011, Zahi Hawass returned for a short time, as minister but resigned. At the end of 2011, Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim Aly was named antiquities minister and he promised to give new life to the body, by bringing in young archeologists and restarting projects which had been put on hold.