If you asked a room full of actual archaeologists what inspired them to pursue the field, I’d guess a good number would reference George Lucas’ Indiana Jones. The character is undoubtedly an action-adventure classic fronted by Harrison Ford in one of his most memorable roles to date. But, if you ask an actual archaeologist if Indy’s methods for excavation are sound, they’ll disagree.
There’s a real Dr. Jones of archaeology: Dr. Alexandra Jones, Founder and CEO of Archaeology in the Community. She recently sat down with the most famous on-film depictions of her subject of expertise to discuss how accurate they are from her perspective. When she viewed the famous opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which features Indiana Jones swapping a priceless artifact for a bag of similar weight before running from a series of traps, including the iconic boulder drop, here’s how she reacted:
Depending on the site, different cultures, and the people who have created what was at that time a location have created different mechanisms that they’ve put in place in order to preserve it. So if we think about China, the Emperor when he built his tomb he actually built thousands of soldiers. And the idea was that in death these soldiers would actually protect him from anybody trying to come and desecrate or disturb this tomb. So you do see things historically that have been done, but nothing to the extent we see in this film.
As Alexandra Jones told Vanity Fair, what Indy goes through in the movies is much more extensive than what archaeologists discover at their sites, but there are sometimes designs put in place to protect what belongs there. She went on to say this:
So while this is a fun movie and it looks awesome and amazing, and all of us would like to have adventures like this, this film is actually not rooted in any fact. This is not what would take place in an archaeological site today. What’s actually taking place is unethical and something that none of us would engage in.
In other words, Indiana Jones gives her line of work a bad name. He is often seen stealing artifacts and messing with the natural states of ancient remains. Fast-forwarding to The Last Crusade, when Harrison Ford’s Indy is teaching his college students, Alexandra Jones does agree with his comments about archaeology being rooted in “fact” rather than truths. But once his friend Marcus comes in with stolen artifacts to show him, we’re back in unethical territory. You can check out the real Dr. Jones discuss archaeology movies below:
Alexandra Jones also analyzed the original Tomb Raider movies with Angelina Jolie and Daniel Craig, and The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz… and they get similar scores. She’s especially judgemental about an early interaction between Weisz’s Evie and her brother, played by John Hannah when he scares her while he’s in a coffin and plays with an ancient skeleton... and then gifts her an ancient relic he has also found. Also, fire torches are super impractical!
Personally, I never actually thought the Indiana Jones movies or The Mummy was rooted in fact. But it certainly would have cheered up the child within if she’d come on to say archaeology was just like the movies.