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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Concerning Preservation of Ancient Monuments in the Nile Valley

April 07, 1961

[Released April 7, 1961. Dated April 6, 1961]

Dear Mr.___________:

Pursuant to Section 502 (c) of the Mutual Security Act of 1954, as amended, I transmit herewith my recommendations for participation by the United States in the international campaign initiated by UNESCO to preserve the ancient temples and other monuments in the Nile Valley which are now threatened with inundation as a result of the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

I consider it to be in the interests of the United States to assist in rescuing these historic remains of a former civilization from destruction--and to join the international effort to conduct exploration and research in the threatened area of Nubia, before it is submerged for all time.

The significance of these ancient monuments has been discussed by President Nasser of the U.A.R. who recently said "... we pin our hopes on the preservation of the Nubian treasures in order to keep alive monuments which are not only dear to our hearts--we being their guardians-but dear to the whole world which believes that the ancient and the new components of human culture should blend in one harmonious whole." Reflecting similar sentiments, President Abboud recognized Sudan's responsibility to the rest of the world for the ancient monuments within its borders "... since the history of the Sudan is but a part of the history of Mankind."

The United States, one of the newest of civilizations, has long had a deep regard for the study of past cultures, and a concern for the preservation of man's great achievements of art and thought. We have also had a special interest in the civilization of ancient Egypt from which many of our own cultural traditions have sprung--and a deep friendship for the people who live in the valley of the Nile. In keeping with this tradition, and this friendship, I recommend that we now join with other nations through UNESCO in preventing what would otherwise be an irreparable loss to science and the cultural history of Mankind.

The international effort now under way to save the many ancient temples in the United Arab Republic and Sudan is an operation of a magnitude that cannot be borne by one or even a few nations. Its total cost is estimated at 75-100 million dollars. Because of the immense size of the task, the Director General of UNESCO, at the request of the Governments of the United Arab Republic and of the Sudan, has appealed to all nations and peoples to join in a common undertaking to save these historic monuments from destruction.

In return for assistance, the Governments of the United Arab Republic and of the Sudan, in declarations of October 1, 1959 and October 24, 1959, respectively, have offered to cede, with certain exceptions, at least half of the finds to parties carrying out excavations in Nubia. The U.A.R. Government has also declared its willingness to authorize excavations outside the threatened area at sites in Lower, Middle and Upper Egypt, and has stated it is prepared to cede, with a view to their transfer abroad, certain Nubian temples and a large collection of antiquities which are now part of Egyptian state collections. It is also my understanding that the Government of the United Arab Republic is prepared to extend the above privileges and benefits to American museums and institutions if effective financial .assistance from the U.S. Government is forthcoming.

The United Arab Republic has itself pledged the Egyptian pound equivalent of $10 million for the UNESCO campaign, to be paid over the next seven years. Seven other nations have either paid in or pledged contributions. Still others are furnishing assistance in kind, have sent expeditions to the area, or are seriously considering financial assistance. To date the United States Government has made no financial contribution to the program, and only modest funds have been forthcoming from private sources.

It is important to note that all United States contributions to this international campaign can be in the form of U.S. owned Egyptian currency generated under P.L. 480. The total of all the contributions recommended below can be met from the portion of these currencies available for U.S. use which is determined to be in excess of U.S. prospective requirements.

The task of saving the Nubian monuments can be conveniently divided into two parts: (A) the preservation of the massive temples of Abu Simbel; and (B) the preservation of the temples on the Island of Philae and the remaining lesser temples in the threatened area.

(a) The cost of preserving Abu Simbel-dedicated to Rameses II and Queen Nefertari, and built in the 13th century B.C.--has been estimated at approximately 60 to 80 million dollars. Two major plans have been advanced for saving these monuments: One recommends building a coffer dam around them; and the other proposes to sever the temples from the rock cliff of which they are a part and lift them 200 feet to the future level of the Nile. Each of these plans entails serious difficulties, and further studies are being made. Therefore I feel it would be premature to recommend, at the present time, that any U.S. funds be provided for this purpose.

(b) The preservation of the Philae Temples, the lesser temples, and also the exploration of the threatened region.

1. The second most important group of monuments are the temples on the Island of Philae--known as the "Pearl of Egypt." Recent engineering studies have indicated that these monuments can be saved at a cost of approximately 6 million dollars. There would be no more effective expression of our interest in preserving the cultural monuments of the Nile Valley than an American offer to finance the preservation of these temples. I am directing that the Egyptian pound equivalent of 6 million dollars be set aside for this purpose. When required an appropriation to cover the use of this sum will be sought.

2. The cost of preserving the lesser temples in the U.A.R. and in the Sudan will be approximately 9.6 million dollars. I recommend an appropriation covering the use of the Egyptian pound equivalent of 2.5 million dollars as the U.S. contribution toward the removal of these temples.

3. In addition to preserving these monuments there is a pressing need for extensive archeological and prehistory research in the Nubia. Much of the threatened area, particularly in the Sudan, still remains unexplored by archeologists. Therefore, a large-scale program of investigation and exploration must be undertaken if the undiscovered treasures and antiquities of this region are not to be lost forever. For this purpose the Egyptian and Sudanese Governments have thrown open the Nubia to archeological teams from other countries, and several institutions in the United States have either sent expeditions to the area or have expressed their desire to do so. I recommend an appropriation covering the use of the Egyptian pound equivalent of L5 million dollars for grants to American archeological expeditions and groups doing related research in Nubia which are prepared to meet their own dollar requirements. These grants will be administered by the United States.

4. Of course Egyptian pounds cannot be used to finance either the preservation of temples or exploration and research in the Sudan. However, the Government of the U.A.R. has indicated its willingness to permit the conversion of the Egyptian pound equivalent of $500,000 into Sudanese currency. Therefore I will set aside this amount to be converted for use in the Sudan from the sums I am requesting for research and for preservation of the lesser temples.

5. I intend to appoint a commission of government officials and leading Egyptologists to make plans for the acquisition and distribution of the antiquities ceded to the United States as a result of our contribution.

In making these funds available the United States will be participating in an international effort which has captured the imagination and sympathy of people throughout the world. By thus contributing to the preservation of past civilizations, we will strengthen and enrich our own.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

On September 30 the President approved the Supplemental Appropriation Act, 1962 (75 Stat. 733), which included an appropriation of $4 million for the preservation of the ancient Nubian monuments.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Concerning Preservation of Ancient Monuments in the Nile Valley Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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