“That belongs in a museum!” Indiana Jones shouts at the man in the Panama hat, instantly creating the most memorable archaeological catch phrase of all time, though perhaps the competition isn’t all that fierce.
Forty years after Raiders of the Lost Ark premiered to the public on June 12, 1981, the outsized shadow of Indy still looms large over the field he ostensibly represented. Over three movies in the 1980s, plus a prequel television series and a fourth film that came out in 2008, Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr., became indelibly tied to American archaeology. Despite it being set in the 1930s, an homage to the popcorn serials of the 1940s, and a cinematic blockbuster of the 1980s, Raiders of the Lost Ark is still influential to aspiring and veteran archaeologists alike. Even in the 21st century, several outdated myths about archaeological practice have endured thanks to the “Indiana Jones effect.” And contemporary archaeologists, many of whom harbor a love/hate relationship with the films, would like to set the record straight.
Raiders was set in the 1930s, “a time when 99 percent of archaeologists were white men,” says Bill White of University of California, Berkeley. Casting Ford was true to the time, as was the portrayal of Indy’s “treatment of cultural materials, because that’s how archaeologists treated sites, women, and non-white people back then,” according to White, who partners with African American communities to do public archaeology on St. Croix, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands.