People studying archaeology get used to being compared to fictional characters like Indiana Jones. While the jokes are in good fun, the inaccurate glamorization of archaeology and anthropology can hurt the discipline in the long run.
To help combat these misconceptions, Instructor of Anthropology Lorena D. Mihok shows the opening scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on the first day of her class.
“I ask my students ‘What kind of images do you get of an archaeologist?’ People will say things like dangerous and exciting,” Mihok said. “You’re always trying to find the most beautiful or the most expensive object… and you just go in and take it. You don’t talk to people. You don’t communicate.”
While characters like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft fill anthropology with action and adventure, they don’t portray the realities. People associate anthropology with Indiana Jones because they don’t have any other ideas of what the discipline actually entails.
“The thing that really bothers me is when they say ‘Oh, you’re going to study dinosaur bones,’ because I’ve gotten that just as much as the Indiana Jones comment and those are two different fields,” firstyear anthropology major Sara McClellion said. “If they want to think that I’m some cool person that goes off saving artifacts from Nazis, cool… My issue comes when they don’t want to know what it’s really like.”
According to Mihok, the realities of archaeology are much more deliberate than what is depicted in most entertainment. Most of the work happens in a lab environment, not a dig-site. The goal of anthropology is to study the life of past peoples, not find treasure.
It’s important to remember that anthropology is meant to be public. Through excavation of artifacts, we learn more about our collective cultural history. Indiana Jones and characters like him make archaeology seem like a personal treasure hunt.
“Do you see Indiana Jones use a camera to take pictures? Do you ever see him mapping on graph paper? Does he ever excavate with a trowel very slowly?” Mihok said. “No. He always looks for the things that seem to be famous, like the Ark of the Covenant. Where, to me, finding a piece of pottery is just as important as if I ever found the holy grail.”
The glamorization of anthropology does get people excited about the discipline and inspire them to learn more. According to National Geographic, the number of archaeology students increased after the Indiana Jones franchise. But, students also get disappointed by the discipline when it’s not what they were expecting.
“I think it’s bad when people go in and get their expectations basically shattered,” McClellion said. “It makes it seem like anthropology is a disappointing thing compared to what they think it is, which it’s not. It’s so interesting.”