Wednesday, June 4

Indiana Jones and the Jealous Archaeologists

With all of the hype surrounding the recent release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, there have been a lot of archaeologists in the news criticizing our old friend Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. There are two articles in particular I'm thinking of: An article by archaeologist Neil Silberman that appeared on and an article by archaeologist Brian Fagan of the University of California, Santa Barbara, that was published on the Wall Street Journal's website. Silberman, for instance, enjoys the movies but says he sees this newest release as a new opportunity for the dissemination of "viral disinformation about what archaeologists do." Really? Because no one I've ever met who has even the least bit of curiosity about archaeology has ever said anything to me that suggests they consider Indy to represent the "truth" about what archaeologists do. Fagan ridiculously tries to actually critique Indy's methodology in various ways: "He thinks nothing of smashing his way into a hidden chamber or taking a human leg bone from a grave and using it as a torch. In all the movies, he walks a fine line between a professional archaeologist and treasure hunter." Again, really? A professional archaeologist critiquing the methodology of a movie character? Come on! Just kick back and enjoy a good flick! This is an example of one of the most annoying things about academics--they take themselves way too seriously.

In this case, I think it all boils down to one thing: Deep down, these real archaeologists are just jealous of the Hollywood adventures of Indiana Jones and the fact that he's way cooler than they will ever be. Whether they admit it or not, most of the newer generations of archaeologists were first drawn to archaeology through those movies. (Take, for instance, the recent program on the History Channel that's all about just this idea, "Indiana Jones and the Ultimate Quest.") Once you get into "real" archaeology, the question becomes whether you're in it because you love the pursuit of knowledge about the human past or not. Trust me--those in it under a misguided idea that they're in for guns and adventure and hot pursuit by Nazis or Soviets are quickly weeded out. So grow up, boys, and face facts: Life is not Hollywood and the Indiana Jones adventures will always be more interesting to wide audiences than any of your books will ever be. (Burn!)

Jealous archaeologists aside, there is a segment to the Indy culture that takes a much different tone and is sure to please any history lover. Recently, the t.v. series that was released in the early '90s as The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles has been released on DVD in three volumes as The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. These productions definitely do a better job of keeping to the known "facts" of history, and I think they're a fun way to explore the history of the early 20th century, so I can recommend them with a minimal disclaimer. If you're a history lover, you should check them out.

Also, if you're interested in learning where Speilberg and Lucas got this idea of crystal skulls, check out the articles at this link to Archaeology's website. As you'll learn, the reality is far from anything you'll ever see on the silver screen. Just like archaeology.

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