May 18, 2021
You have to be careful about the movies you watch. They can have unexpected consequences.
2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the archaeologist who gave adventure a a new name: Directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg teamed up to give us Indiana Jones, who made his debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark. As a young and impressionable viewer I was blown away by the thrills I saw on that silver screen in June of 1981. I still have the newspaper ad that I cut out as soon as I got home. Little did I dream then that years later I would explore those very same jungles and deserts, work with the same artifacts Indy handled, wield my own bullwhip, and lay eyes on the Ark of the Covenant.
Getting a Ph.D in archaeology was only the beginning. I eventually pursued the story of Raiders around the world, from tracking down the original filming locations in Tunisia and Hawaii to visiting the places where the “real” Indiana Jones was supposed to have been in Cairo and Peru. I followed the paths of Indiana Jones all the way to the Archives at Skywalker Ranch, where I worked with the original props and talked with George Lucas about his creation, including the practical wisdom of traveling with a bullwhip.
The true history and archaeology behind Raiders of the Lost Ark turns out to be a tale fascinating enough to rival the film, filled with luxurious China Clippers, fearsome flying wings, and nefarious government agents seeking the power of ancient relics. From the far reaches of South America to an off-limits government warehouse hiding incredible treasures, I tracked it all down to see these things for myself. Thanks to the Louisville Wonderfest convention, I will now be sharing this real-life adventure in a program called The Archaeology of Indiana Jones, based on the illustrated journal I kept as I traveled.
I invite you to join me for this presentation on Sunday June 6th at 12:30 p.m at Crowne Plaza Louisville Airport Hotel at 830 Phillips Lane in Louisville, Kentucky. Wonderfest is proceeding live in 2021 with COVID-19 precautions in accordance with applicable regulations, and I very much hope to see some of you there!
Hollywood dreams can become realities. Compelling movies and vivid characters can make us believe in paths we would never dare to take otherwise. The Archaeology of Indiana Jones is a testament to the power of cinematic inspiration, and it may make you wonder where the next movie you watch may someday take you.
This program is based on the illustrated journal that I kept as I traveled around the world.
How much of Indiana Jones is real?
Raiders of the Lost Ark is a rollicking adventure and a Hollywood classic—but nobody would expect its creators to be particularly bothered about accurate historical detail. What does a bullwhip-slinging hero need with the pesky restraints of authenticity? With its Nazi agents on an archaeological quest and Egyptian monuments full of miniature cities and moving sunbeams, Indiana Jones’ first cinematic outing looks as fanciful as any other Hollywood confection. But there’s a big surprise here.
Paramount Pictures hired me to look into the facts behind Indiana Jones for a promotional piece they were considering. I became so intrigued that the project grew and grew until The Archaeology of Indiana Jones took me all over the world, tracking down not only the original shooting locations where Lucas and Spielberg filmed Indy's adventures in Hawaii and Tunisia, but the far-flung places where the “real” Indiana Jones was supposed to have been, in Peru and Cairo.
To my astonishment I found that despite its larger-than-life atmosphere, Raiders of the Lost Ark is based almost entirely in authentic history, due to extremely unusual circumstances behind the production. The movie therefore serves as an excellent popular gateway to discussion of a colorful and surprising variety of historical subjects, from the solar mechanics of ancient monuments to the pioneering of trans-pacific air travel by Pan American's China Clippers, and much more.
Stories of my first-hand experiences and sketches from my journal make this a uniquely personal adventure.
The program features an engaging mix of travelogue, cinematic detective work, and authentic history. Spiced with humor, the presentation is highly entertaining yet substantial in educational content. The talk assumes only passing familiarity with Indiana Jones, reprising relevant movie details.
Audiences have enjoyed this program at museums, archaeological conferences, universities, and official Lucasfilm Celebration events ever since I first completed the project. The enduring appeal of Indiana Jones makes this presentation perennially popular.
Archaeologists have a love-hate relationship with Indy. He’s our ambassador to the public, but he’s also a catastrophe on wheels for almost every site he visits. Fortunately, nobody watches an Indiana Jones movies to learn archaeological technique. Personally I think it’s a good thing to be frank about the fact that archaeology wasn’t always as sensitive as it is today. We can be proud of the progress we have made.
By the way, venues always ask, “Doctor Reynolds, can you crack a bullwhip? Ha ha.” Who’s joking? Of course I can crack a bullwhip—if you've got the space. Would I omit such an important part of the Indiana Jones experience? I curated the original whips of Indiana Jones for the Lucasfilm Archives, discussed the wisdom of the bullwhip as a personal weapon with George Lucas, and taught movie stars whip technique at Skywalker Ranch. My own bullwhip was braided for me by the same man who provided the stunt whips for Harrison Ford to use in the Indy films. When I introduce screenings of Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s not the Ph.D in archaeology that impresses people; it’s cracking the whip on stage. I get it. So don’t worry: I’ve got the whip angle covered.
If you'd like to discuss booking this program, please get in touch using the contact form via the navigation at the top of the page.
Who knew there was so much real history behind an adventure like Raiders of the Lost Ark?
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