True Life Archaeological Adventures (…or, Who Needs Dr. Jones?)

Having just watched the last Indiana Jones flick, I can safely say that it was better than IJ 2, worse than IJ 3, and cannot even begin to approach Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And don’t get me started on aliens. As a friend of mine said, ‘there are so many *great* archaeological stories… why’d they go with aliens?!’. But that got me to thinking. What are my great archaeological stories? What are yours?

My two favourite stories, that I trot out as occasion demands, involve a vampire and a scooter. When I was 18, I was excavating with the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies from Toronto, at the site of a Cistercian Monastery near ancient Stymphalos. We discovered a skeleton, placed against the wall of the church. Its head had been removed, and replaced with a cut stone block… near its feet was the skeleton of a neonate. The treatment of the adult seemed consistent with what the folklore of the region prescribed for vampires. Remove the suspected vampire’s head, replace it with something else, and the vampire goes into a bit of a holding cycle. It feels complete, so wants to rise; but it isn’t complete, so it can’t get out.

For an 18 year old kid, fresh from the backwoods of Quebec, that was quite an adventure. I mean, digging up vampires sure beats working at McDonalds…

When I was a grad student, I went to Rome to study the aqueducts. I wanted to follow the course of the Aqua Claudia, backwards from Rome up to the mountains. When in Rome and all that: I rented a scooter from a dealer near the Termini train station in Rome.

“Take it around the block for a test drive, to get used to it” suggested the dealer (in Italian).

And off I went, wobbling at first, then with increasing confidence. Hell, this is easy! Look at me, just like a Roman! Down the back stretch, around the final two corners, and back to the dealer. Problem: two tram cars parked in the road. Solution: lift the front of the scooter onto the sidewalk, and drive around them, just like the Romans do. Disaster: lifting the front wheel, while holding firmly onto the accelerator, causes the scooter to shoot out from under the rider a la Wiley Coyote.

oh, sh*t!

I have blurred memories of sheer panic as the scooter races down the sidewalk, me running behind it still holding onto the accelerator making it go faster as pedestrians jump aside, shopping flying, little faces peering out of the windows of the tram… I got around the trams, leaping onto the scooter, and put-putting down the street to the dealer.

He wasn’t looking at me, but rather back towards where I’d come. I turned around: and an entire street of people were running after me.

Good times, good times…

oh, and somebody shot at me last summer when I was doing a heritage inventory of Gatineau Park.

Be an archaeologist, live the adventure!

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2 thoughts on “True Life Archaeological Adventures (…or, Who Needs Dr. Jones?)

  1. Don’t have any great archaeological stories (unless you count one of my colleagues getting literally stoned in Jerusalem for playing a penny whistle too loud or too late or just badly) but I actually found the new film quite depressing. Even if you avoid the aliens issue- why did they need to get Indy involved with the army/CIA? What was wrong with him being *just* an archaeologist?

    My personal rating: worst of the lot I’m afraid…

  2. It was a dire film, true. But regarding the army/CIA link – it does make a certain amount of sense. Here’s a man, who has fought the Nazis time and again before the war: he’d clearly sign up and with his specialist knowledge you know that simple combat is not where he would be put to use. The National Post had a very interesting article not too long ago about the connection between archaeology and intelligence gathering:

    “When the fourth of the Indiana Jones movies opens today, more than thrills and spills will be in evidence. Fans of the Jones saga all know how the U. S. government recruited the indestructible archaeologist in the first (and so far still the best) installment to counter a Nazi plot. They also know, thanks to the much-heralded trailer for the latest adventure, that the action has shifted forward to the Cold War, in which Jones battles communist conspirators. It is now clear that Jones is, in fact, a part-time secret agent, undertaking covert missions in the name of national security. For archaeologists in general, that is where the Jones series really becomes interesting, because archaeology and espionage have been entangled for generations.”

    For the entire article, see here.

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