Indiana Jones, the fearless archaeologist portrayed by Harrison Ford, has become an iconic figure in pop culture. The character has appeared in five movies to date, starting with the 1981 masterpiece Raiders of the Lost Ark. The fifth and final installment was released in June 2023, titled Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. While his adventures captivate audiences, the portrayal of archaeology in the Indiana Jones film franchise has sparked debates among real-life archaeologists.
Archaeology on the Silver Screen: Separating Fact From Fiction
When it comes to the depiction of archaeology in pop culture, the Indiana Jones franchise often receives criticism from the archaeological community. Many argue that the movies present an unrealistic and sensationalized version of the profession. However, it’s important to acknowledge that Indiana Jones has also played a significant role in raising public awareness about archaeology and generating interest in the field. Here are some of the critiques that have been thrown toward Indy’s adventures and his authenticity as an archaeologist.
Destruction and Discovery: Unveiling the Realities of Excavations
In the iconic movies, archaeological sites frequently suffer damage during far-fetched adventures. While the cinematic portrayal may be exaggerated, it reflects an underlying truth about the destructive nature of archaeological excavations. Real-life archaeologists understand the need to carefully document and preserve the context they seek to understand. Modern techniques, such as ground-penetrating radar and detailed documentation, help minimize the destruction caused by excavation and keep the site safe for future generations to view.
Museums, Communities, and Heritage: Ethical Considerations
Museums play a vital role in preserving and showcasing cultural heritage. However, the ethical considerations surrounding museum collections and their origins are complex. Many collections store sacred objects and human remains that are subjects of repatriation requests from Indigenous groups and nations. In one of the movies, Jones returns the artifact he unearths back to the villagers instead of to the museum. The Indiana Jones films touch on the importance of community engagement and the role of archaeologists in supporting communal efforts for heritage protection.
The Impact of the Franchise
While Indiana Jones may take creative liberties with archaeology, the films provide a platform to explore important ethical issues and challenges faced by real-life archaeologists. By critically analyzing the franchise, we gain insights into the complexities of the field and the impact of historical manipulation. Indiana Jones may be a fictional character, but the discussions sparked by his adventures shed light on the real-world responsibilities and dilemmas faced by archaeologists.
When Mark Newstead, the Asian ceramics and artworks consultant who works for auction house Dreweatts, looked at a blue-and-gold porcelain vase sitting in the kitchen of one of his friends, he thought its colors, design, and shape looked rather familiar. His gut feeling proved right, and upon further examination, Newstead determined that the vase was a rare 18th-century ceramic piece from China’s Qing Dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty Vase Was Valued at $186,000 but Sold for Much More
Despite the valuation of the 18th-century vase at around $186,000, it was auctioned for some $1.8 million. According to Dreweatts, the two-foot-tall artifact was bought in the 1980s by an English surgeon for just a few hundred pounds. It was passed down to the son of that surgeon and displayed in his kitchen and drawing-room. This same person was Newstead’s friend, and their friendship led to the discovery of the vase. The artifact’s earlier provenance is not clear.
According to Justin Jacobs, who is a history professor at American University and studies the plunder of Chinese cultural artifacts, the vase could have been a gift from the emperor. It could have been sold under duress during the 20th century or taken as a spoil of war during either of the military’s plunders of 1860 or 1901. How the artifact actually left China will likely remain a mystery.
The Vase Has a Mark Associated With the Qianlong Emperor
There is a six-character mark that can be found on the bottom of the vase, and it was determined that it was associated with the Qianlong emperor, who ruled between 1736 and 1795 and was the Qing Dynasty’s sixth emperor. The Qing Dynasty ruled over China from 1644 to 1912 and was the country’s last imperial dynasty.
While the Qing Dynasty did not last, much of its art still remains, with porcelain being one of the era’s major art forms. The finesse of the craftsmanship of the recently discovered vase matches the descriptions of porcelain art from that period. The vessel is adorned with depictions of cranes, bats, fans, flutes, and clouds.