Does last Indiana Jones film end ‘Indy effect’ in archaeology?

As world’s most famous archaeologist makes his last big-screen outing, real-life researchers reflect on how the character and his famous hat and whip have influenced their discipline

July 1, 2023
Source: iStock

The fifth and final Indiana Jones film marks the “end of an era” for both the iconic character and the real-life archaeologists who have long contended with the series’ depictions of academic life.

The first film of the franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was released to great acclaim in 1981 and inspired a generation of budding archaeologists – including a then six-year-old Jeff Rose.

Dr Rose, an archaeologist and TV presenter, said the reluctant hero played by Harrison Ford had been the public face of archaeology for four decades and was the subject’s “most popular ambassador to the public”.

The “Indy-effect” had inspired countless students, romanticised the study of archaeology and possibly contributed to the wide range of archaeology and history documentaries on television, he told Times Higher Education.

Jago Cooper, director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and professor of art and archaeology at the University of East Anglia, said the films were the “go-to” conversation starter when people heard what his job was.

Though the sequels in the decades that followed Raiders have drifted away from the core concept of an archaeological professor who thought all great artefacts belonged in public museums, Professor Cooper, who was formerly curator of the Americas at the British Museum, admitted they got certain things right.

“The films instil the concept of adventure, discovery, travel, meeting amazing people, seeing amazing places and finding out absolutely fascinating facts about people who have lived on the planet before us,” said Professor Cooper, who is currently doing archaeological fieldwork on an uninhabited island in the Caribbean.

“All of those have been true for me and my career to date, so that is on point I suppose.”

Dr Rose, who is also a research associate at the Institute of Archaeology, at the Czech Academy of Sciences, said another aspect the movies captured well was “the dichotomy between professor and adventurer” – with the bulk of an archaeologist’s year spent sat at their desk.

“Then the other two months you’re out in the middle of nowhere, showering every few days, dealing with scorpions, snakes, camel spiders and generally adverse living conditions,” he added.

“That’s the real appeal of archaeology: getting to live the life of a respectable professor some of the year, and dusty desert vagabond the rest of the time.”

As a result, Dr Rose said, the character had been the greatest possible advertisement for the subject, but had been almost too successful – “flooding the market with aspiring archaeologists” when there was not enough work for all of them.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny marks 80-year-old Harrison Ford’s final appearance as the title character, before hanging up his famous hat and whip – a look that many archaeologists have tried to mimic, according to Emma Baysal, associate professor in archaeology at Ankara University.

Dr Baysal said the films still inspired students to study and they had become a useful teaching tool for discussions around colonialism and the controversies about museums not returning artefacts.

“We use them to think about how and why we do fieldwork, what our responsibilities are and who should be responsible for the things that are found – and to break down student prejudices,” she said.

Despite the films ending, Dr Baysal said, she would continue to use the character as a discussion topic and the field would never be truly rid of Indiana Jones because of his place in popular culture.

“Any archaeologist of my generation or younger has never experienced life without Indiana Jones,” she said.

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Reader's comments (1)

Coming to academia in later life (albeit in computer science) the one influence of Indiana Jone's representation of academic life is the scene where he climbs out of his office window to escape a clamouring horde of students. "Just remember," said my husband, "That your office is on the second floor."