Is Indiana Jones Bad for Archeology – Yes

Indiana Jones is bad for archeology in the respect that he represents an era when rampant thievery, destruction of delicate artifacts and archeological sites, along with a complete lack of respect for the governments and peoples of many nations resulted in nothing less than looting that went on during the entire time of British and other countries occupations of third world countries.

There was a bottomless greed, not just for the monetary gain from the looted artifacts, but for the benefits of claiming ownership and of those artifacts. Great Britain was overcome during the era represented in the Indiana Jones series, with an additional greed: to take, protect, horrifically waste, and to properly study the great works of other men and women.

In one art class, there was an urban myth about a beautiful watercolor called “Mummy Green”. Sales dropped precipituously when the word went out that the pigment came from real, ground up mummies. It is not known whether this was true or not.

There was racial confusion in the Indiana Jones films in that no significant number of Black people are represented in countries where they were quite plentiful at the time. If Nubians occupied part of Egypt at one point, and Louis Gossett, Jr. could portray Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, then don’t we think that there would have been more dark skinned people at least doing hard labor at archeological digs, or in the streets of major cities?

While the Indiana Jones films inspired a generation of students to explore the field, the inspiration was based on a cartoon character’s approach to adventure and heroic accomplishments. Of course, high school and college students are smart enough to realize that the “real thing” in archeology is far less exciting and definitely no where near as glamorous as depicted in the films, but smaller children have trouble separating the facts from the fiction. They have no idea of the vast majority of hours spent in back rooms and laboratories, or of studying the driest of details about the artifacts of mankind and how they relate to the nature of human interactions throughout history.

As a result, the fictional character, Indiana Jones, represented the good, the bad, and the downright ugly about past activities and conduct by the archeological community, but did not present a realistic and encouraging set of truths about the importance of archeological finds that are not possessed of mythical powers, brilliant value, or incredible rarity. The films did not pay respect to the advancements that have been made in protecting archeological sites, and in being forced to respect the rights of other countries to keep, study, store and maintain their own historical treasures. Granted, at the time, most historical treasures were not well preserved or even well treated, but as countries of origin developed, so did their institutions for conserving and protecting natural and cultural resources.