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Archaeologists learn to dig Indy

Swashbuckling movie scientist is good for the antiquity biz.

Harrison Ford's recurring role as Indiana Jones makes some real-life archaeologists uneasy, as his gunslinging, treasure-finding, daredevil shtick does not really represent what the field is all about.

But with the latest movie now in theaters, some scholars of antiquity have decided to embrace their inner Indy.

This month the Archaeological Institute of America announced that Ford had been elected to its board, to help with fund-raising and outreach. The initiative came from AIA president Brian Rose, who is also deputy director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Rose is a fan of the Indy movies, and says it makes sense to take advantage of the connection.

"Whenever you have a movie that presents the archaeologist as superhero, you increase the enrollment in all of our archaeology classes," Rose says. "It excites people about antiquity and about the exploration of the past. And that's all for the good."

A new exhibit at the Penn museum may also bring the Hollywood hero to mind. It contains artifacts, photos and records from the museum's more celebrated expeditions. One odd item, from Borneo, is a fighting jacket made from the skin of a scaly anteater.

Though no one wielded bullwhips, guns were thought to be necessary by some museum explorers. The exhibit includes the firearm permit obtained by the head of an 1880s expedition to Nippur, in present-day Iraq.

No crystal skulls, though. Such items were indeed sold in Latin America in the 19th century, billed as the handiwork of ancient cultures. But scholars consider them to be no more authentic than Indy himself.

- Tom Avril