How Indiana Jones changed archaeology

“These films introduced so many people to archaeology,” says Hiebert. “We can document their impact statistically, based on the number of archaeology students before and after the first film. Some of the best archaeologists in the world today say Indiana Jones was what sparked their initial interest. That’s a great legacy for George Lucas—and for the relationship between popular media and science.”

John Rhys-Davies agrees.

Reached by email, the Welsh actor who played the Egyptian excavator Sallah—Indy’s burly, bearded sidekick in two of the films—writes, “I must have met at least 150 or 160 full professors, lecturers, practising archaeologists who have come up to me to say their first interest in archaeology began when they saw Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s not a bad legacy for any film!”

Of course, says Hiebert, real archaeology happens in the real world.

“Unlike Indiana Jones,” he says, “I actually have to write research proposals and reports, take field notes and photographs. The big difference [between movies and reality] is that massive parts of the archaeological job—from creating and testing a hypothesis to raising money to getting permits and tools—are glossed over by Hollywood.”