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Archaeologists React to: Indiana Jones- Raiders of the Lost Ark

With all of these reaction videos running rampant around YouTube, Jude and I thought it was necessary to tackle some archaeological movies in order to set the record straight and give a real impression as to what actual archaeologists do. Of course, first on the list had to be: Raider of the Lost Ark. Yes, the film that started it all. The original Indiana Jones Adventure. The reason most archaeologists today became archaeologists! Watch, enjoy, and learn!

Missing Map Piece

There are never treasure maps, nor is there the one ‘missing’ piece that gets discovered to blow the case wide open. I wish there was, but archaeologists have other, more reliable ways to find a site, such as historical records, ground penetrating radar, aerial photography, and surveys. Also, this is not how archaeology is done. You need a whole team with you, not just some helpers. And there needs to be proper documentation at ALL TIMES.

Booby Traps

Okay so we got this question a lot when asking the public about this movie. Booby traps are not a thing. No archaeologist has ever come across a booby trap. Inscribed curses, sure, but no death traps of immense technological advancements that have remained perfectly functional for hundreds or thousands of years. Also, what is Indiana doing? He’s going after this one little gold thing and ignoring all the technological and architectural feats of this civilization?! Real archaeologists would be more interested in studying the booby traps than a little gold figurine, because that’s where all the juicy information is.

Gold Statue

Prehistoric gold objects in pre-Columbian America were very thin sheets of gold applied to walls and other artefacts, not solid gold statues.

Turkdean Barrow Near Hazleton

This site comes up during Jones' lecture at the University of Chicago. In England there is a little village named Turkdean. A barrow is a burial mound, and there are in fact two Neolithic long barrows (burial mounds) at Hazelton. One was excavated between 1980 and 1982, which doesn’t match up with the 1930s setting of the movie, but it DOES match up with the making of the film, which came out in 1981.

What Jones says about folklore is right, though. Locals and grave robbers are always digging up sites in hopes of finding treasure. This really can damage a site, leave it in disrepair, and also take away that much beloved context we need to properly interpret the site.

Nazis and the Occult

The Nazis were in fact a very occultist group, it’s actually how they started. Of course, the biggest occultist in the game was Heinrich Himmler. He was the leader of this organisation called the Ahnenerbe or officially the Deutsches Ahnenerbe – Studiengesellschaft für Geistesurgeschichte (German Ancestry - Research Society for Ancient Intellectual History) which was formed in 1935. This was a group of scholars, amateur archaeologists and the like that were tasked with the mission to find evidence to support Hitler’s idea of the “ superior Aryan race”.

The Ahnenerbe are the people responsible for the field of pseudoarchaeology. Archaeology was only conducted for propaganda to invoke nationalistic pride in the Germans. These people were sent all over the world for various missions, but they never went to Egypt in search for the Ark of the Covenant. Hitler did believe the Ghent Altarpiece, which he also stole, held a map to the Arma Chrisit, which were the Crown of Thorns, the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny... which he believed would bestow supernatural powers onto him.

The Ark of the Covenant

It is said in the Bible that the Ark of the Covenant was constructed to house the 10 commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain. It’s also said to have magical powers, and no one knows where it went after the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem.

Recently, a German team of archaeologists, go figure, claimed that the Ark is actually being hidden and protected at the church of Saint Mary of Zion in Ethiopia. Apparently there is only one appointed guardian who can lay eyes on it, so we have no actual way of confirming this. But it’s a fun story nonetheless.


Tanis was a real site, yes! It was the seat of the pharaohs in the 21st and 22nd dynasties. There was also a royal necropolis there, like a new Valley of the Kings.

Tanis was never mentioned in any biblical literature or the like as a possible location for the ark. The city was also not mythically destroyed in a sandstorm. The site was later abandoned because that branch of the Nile silted up, and the harbour was no longer functional. It wasn’t actually abandoned until Roman times. Excavations have been taking place at Tanis since the 19th century with Finders Petrie, and even Auguste Mariette, the founder of the Egyptian Department of Antiquities, digging there. There is no “map room” at the site, and there is definitely no Well of Souls. That one is in Jerusalem.

The pharaoh, Shishak was real. His name was Shoshenq I, and he was a pharaoh in the 21st Dynasty, which is like the 10th century BCE. He did sack Jerusalem, but didn’t take the ark. The ark was supposedly taken by the Babylonians when they conquered Jerusalem in 587 BCE.


A kadam is in fact an Egyptian unit of measure. It’s about 24 centimeters or 9.5 inches.

Well of Souls- Domes

Have you ever seen a dome structure in ancient Egypt? I’ll wait…


What kind of fake hieroglyphs are these?! Also, he’s reading them backwards, the fool. I’m assuming they’re trying to be accurate by thinking it would be read from right to left, like Arabic, but hieroglyphs could actually be written any which way, and the key to figuring out how to read them is to look at which way the animals and people are facing. You always read away from the direction they are looking.

Opening an object and all hell breaking loose

While there are a bunch of stories about cursed artefacts or things mean to hold supernatural forces or beings… They never actually come true once you open them. King Tut’s curse for example was just an overhyped reaction to archaeologists breathing in 3000 year old bacteria, and I doubt that ‘witch bottles’ contain an actual witch. The supernatural is not something we normally have to deal with in archaeology.

So there you have it, friends! Hope you learned some stuff and had fun along the way. Indiana Jones is kind of a bad archaeologist, but we love him anyways! Stay tuned for even more reaction videos!

All images from the film are copyright: . Lucasfilm Ltd


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