Exploring Our Matrix
The Blog of Dr. James F. McGrath, Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, Indianapolis
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This image comparing real life archaeology with Indiana Jones “archaeology” appeared today on the American School of Oriental Research blog:
To be fair, Indi was quite dull at the University of Chicago, and the wide brimmed hats do fit both…
This assumes we’re talking about 20th century archaeologists. Ever heard of the Great Belzoni? He was a 19th century circus strongman-turned Egyptologist. He famously excavated the tomb of Pharaoh Seti I. He used all kinds of destructive and thuggish tactics. Here’s a typical account:
“After the exertion of entering into such a place, through a passage of fifty, a hundred, three hundred, or perhaps six hundred yards, nearly overcome, I sought a resting-place, found one, and contrived to sit; but when my weight bore on the body of an Egyptian, it crushed like a bandbox. I naturally had recourse to my hands to sustain my weight, but they found no better support; so that I sank altogether among the broken mummies, with a crash of bones, rags, and wooden cases, which raised such a dust as kept me motionless for a quarter of an hour, waiting till it subsided again. I could not remove from the place, however, without increasing it, and every step I took I crushed a mummy in some part or another. Once I was conducted from such a place to another resembling it through a passage of about twenty feet in length, no wider than body could be forced through. It was choked with mummies, and I could not pass without putting my fact in contact with that of some decayed Egyptian; but as the passage inclined downwards, my own weight helped me on; however, I could not avoid being covered with bones, legs, arms, and heads rolling from above. Thus, I proceeded from one cave to another all full of mummies piled up in various ways some standing, some lying, and some on their heads. The purpose of my researches was to rob the Egyptians of their papyri; of which I found a few hidden in their breasts, under their arms, in the space above the knees, on the leg, and covered by numerous folds of cloth that envelop the mummy.”
That’s certainly a fair point – Indiana Jones does indeed bear a closer resemblance to earlier archaeologists, many of whom might more aptly be described as “treasure hunters.” Archaeology as an academic field has developed significantly, and these changes are important, since when things come to scholars’ attention by way of the antiquities market, context is lost and it often leaves unanswerable important questions that could have been answered if the provenance of the artifact was documented properly.
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