Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Famous Fictional Archaeologists: Indiana Jones

Born: July 1, 1899
Education: Princeton, the Sorbonne, University of Chicago
Specialty: ?? (see below)
Likes: Obtaining artifacts from bad guys
Dislikes: Snakes

Indiana Jones is the king of fictional archaeologists. No other archaeologist, real or imagined, is as well-known and popular. And with a fourth movie in the works (due for release in 2008), he continues to epitomize archaeology in popular culture.

Indiana Jones is featured in three movies and the TV series Young Indiana Jones (of which, I admit, I have seen only one or two episodes). Jones is an archaeologist in the romantic vein. Far from spending his time in the classroom or conducting methodical excavations, most of his time is spent travelling around the world alone in pursuit of artifacts. Objects are sought for their intrinsic value, not their cultural context (forget the South American gold head, give me a look at that temple!). He also inhabits a parallel universe where Nazis have secret bases in British Egypt in 1937.

Like most fictional archaeologists, Jones' specialty is left unspoken, and he is granted facility with material from all cultures and places. This extends to his fluency in 27 languages. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, he is shown teaching a class in prehistoric European archaeology, but given that the subject is never mentioned in the movies or (I gather) the TV series, can only be considered a side interest.

Indiana Jones has done wonders for the popularity of archaeology and the sales of rumpled fedoras. He is a perfect example of the disjunction in the public conception of archaeologists, who tend to be depicted as either romantic adventurers or museum-bound bores. Still, given the low profile of archaeology in the U.S., any publicity is good publicity. Right?

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