It would be hard for any real-life archaeologist to match the fictional Indiana Jones, but Julian Siggers gives it a good run.

Siggers, 50, director of the Penn Museum since July 2012, may not crack a bullwhip or sport a battered fedora, but he does have a fondness for motorcycles and tattoos. He's also handsome, charming, and possessed of an impressive academic pedigree, including a doctorate from the University of Toronto in Near Eastern prehistoric archaeology.

Born in England and educated at University College London, he came to Penn from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where he was vice president for programs, education, and content communication. He and his wife, Marianne, a sculptor, have just bought a house in Fairmount.

Most people seem to know about archaeology through Raiders of the Lost Ark. Is archaeology really that exciting?

It really is exciting. There can be moments of drudgery when you're not finding material, but it really is a very, very exciting profession to be in. Archaeology is an amazing adventure. We have fewer Nazis, perhaps, than in the Indiana Jones movies.

Have you ever had to run for your life on a dig? That happened several times in Indiana Jones movies.

That hasn't happened to me, but I've had some experiences with undesirable fauna. I was digging in Jordan once, and I got into my sleeping bag without checking it, and I felt a tickling sensation. I foolishly shone my torch down, and there was a poisonous millipede - sorry, a centipede, the ones with the big legs, I'd say about 10 inches long and an inch wide with its legs - and it was crawling up my leg. I never got out of a sleeping bag so quickly, and I think I used some fairly choice language.

What was your most exciting moment in the field, other than the centipede in your bedroll?

My most exciting discovery was at a site in Britain called Boxgrove, in the south of England. Boxgrove at the time was the oldest site in Britain. It was a Lower Paleolithic site, and it was half a million years old. What was amazing about it is that half a million years ago, the site was a beach. The material that was there had basically been undisturbed for half a million years, and I found a hand ax made out of flint. They're very beautiful objects. You gradually see the top of the surface, and as you carefully brush away, you begin to see the full tool, and to think that that is half a million years old. Somebody actually made it, held it, probably used it on something, and then it was discarded. That was by far my most exciting discovery.

Tell me something about you that people wouldn't expect.

I'm passionate about vintage British motorcycles. I've owned a Triumph and a Norton. I love all motorcycles. When I moved here, I parted with a Norton Commando, but I'm keen to ride around Philadelphia and Pennsylvania on a new bike.

Any other unusual things about you?

I'm very interested in prehistoric tattooing, so I was interested in the Ice Man's tattoo, that guy who was found in the ice, a Bronze Age guy, in the Italian Alps. He had these tattoos on him, and he had with him a bone needle, which was stained black.

That was the tattoo instrument?

People assumed it was. I couldn't really believe that. I had a few tattoos, because I'm interested in tribal tattoos, so I spoke to a [tattooist] friend of mine - we did a little documentary for the Discovery Channel. We thought, "Well, let's try and recreate this." So I replicated a bone needle and an antler needle, which I thought would be much better because it's much stronger, and a stone needle, which are the technologies you would have available. I thought, "We'll get somebody to volunteer." Nobody did, so I volunteered. It took about two hours to get a piece on my back. It's a sort of a free-form symbol. What was really interesting was that the tool that worked the best was the bone needle.

How big is the tattoo?

This one is only small.

Several inches?

Yeah, I've got others that are bigger.

And all in the name of science?

All in the name of science.