The Indiana Jones movies are leaving the archaeologists’ image in ruins! (Geddit?) At least, Neil Asher Silberman, the former director of the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Presentation in Belgium, feels that way in this Washington Post article, posted by the New York Times’ Opinionator blog. He says the new movie (which made a $313 million debut this weekend) is going to spread more ridiculous falsehoods about archaeologists, like that they are all smolderingly handsome, carry around a whip and communicate in cheesy one-liners.
Whether I’m sitting on a plane, waiting in an office or milling around at a cocktail party, the casual mention that I’m an archaeologist inevitably brings up Indiana Jones. People conjure up images of gold, adventure and narrow escapes from hostile natives. And while “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” will almost certainly break worldwide box office records, it will also spread another wave of viral disinformation about what archaeologists actually do.
But seriously, guys, archaeologists do very serious work and Mr. Silberman explains that we need to be serious about it!
It’s not just that the films are harmlessly caricatured visions of old-fashioned archaeology; they are filled with destructive and dangerous stereotypes that undermine American archaeology’s changing identity and goals. At a time when our national political debates are centered on our relationships with other cultures, when the question of talking to rather than attacking perceived enemies has become a contentious presidential campaign issue and when claims for the repatriation of looted relics are being seriously addressed by courts and professional archaeological organizations, the thrill-a-minute adventures of Indiana Jones are potentially dangerous and dysfunctional models for both modern archaeology and American behavior in the world.
For some reason this whole uproar from the archaeologists reminds us of this scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Belloq is about to close Marion and Indy in the snake-infested Well of Souls. “What a fitting end to your life’s pursuits,” he said. “You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows? In a thousand years, even you may be worth something.” Indy laughed mockingly and replied, “Son of a bitch.”