Gratifying as it might seem to be associated with a swashbuckling sex symbol who works for an institution that considers Nazi killing to be a perfectly acceptable way to spend a sabbatical, the truth is that the daring, exciting exploits of Indiana Jones have been a mixed bag for most modern archaeologists. While the film series has raised the profession’s profile and inspired many children to seek out a career they may not have otherwise pursued, it’s also responsible for making the world associate a valuable scientific discipline with a murdering, grave-robbing lunatic who just happened to be the main character of one of history’s greatest films, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It is in this spirit of reconciliation that an upcoming screening of Raiders at the Brattle will be presented by Dr. Rowan Flad, professor of anthropological archaeology at Harvard University, in conjunction with his class in archaeological method and reasoning.
“There’s definitely this ambivalence [among archaeologists] toward the character specifically,” says Dr. Flad, “but it’s mediated a little bit by the fact that most archaeologists—at least who are in their younger-than-fifties or maybe even younger than their sixties—experienced Indiana Jones at an early age, probably before they were professional archaeologists.”
Interestingly, Dr. Flad notes, most of the proper archaeological fieldwork that is depicted is undertaken by the film’s villains, most notably how Belloq learns the local language and customs while Indy charges in, sets off traps, plucks an artifact from its context, and then trashes the place. With great filmmaking and atrocious archaeology, Raiders is still a defining moment for the field’s visibility and popularity.
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. BRATTLE THEATRE, 40 BRATTLE ST., CAMBRIDGE. THU 11.20. 8PM/PG/$7-10.