Dr. Jones Meets Dr. Hiebert

“Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re looking for, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.” – Indiana Jones,  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The exhibition, Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology, now at the Montreal Science Centre, examines the facts and fiction behind the legendary Dr. Jones. Combining props, costumes, scene sketches, and clips from the Indiana Jones films with stories of real life archaeologists, the exhibition makes excavation exciting.

“Indiana Jones is a great set of films that was a huge inspiration when I started out in archaeology,” said Fred Hiebert, National Geographic Fellow, archaeologist and co-curator of this exhibition.  “Even though Indiana Jones is a fictional character created for the big screen, there’s a lot of reality reflected in his character.”

“When Indy drops into a tomb full of snakes, I think to myself, that’s normal—all most of my excavations are full of snakes.”  That’s because Hiebert’s focus puts him primarily in the deserts of Central Asia, where the local poisonous snake population likes to cool down in the soft sand of a fresh dig.

“On a field expedition, we experience the same frustration you see in the Indiana Jones films. Anything can happen, trucks break down, the road ends, or we have to go by foot or horseback—experiences like these make me feel at one with Indy.”

However, Hiebert notes, sometimes the movies stray into total fantasy. “We don’t actually search for treasure. We search for knowledge, it’s our real gold.”  Is the search for the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail really feasible? Hiebert dodges the question as his eyes light up, “Did I ever tell you about the time that we found a 2,500-year-old temple on an island in the Persian Gulf built by the generals of Alexander the Great?”

Hiebert is quick to explain, “In the early 1990’s, I was with an archaeological team following clues from legends and myths that Alexander’s army returned from their campaigns in Afghanistan by ship through the Persian Gulf. Referencing historical texts, we were looking for a certain kind of ancient pottery used by the Greeks.  On an island so close to Iran and Iraq that the sky lit up at night with bursts of shells from the war, one local told us about a small mound called “The Mound of the Treasure (or Tel Khazne)”. ‘Oh boy!’, we thought. Unfortunately, with a name like that, it had obviously been dug through for centuries, but it did have fragments of those specific Greek ceramics we were looking for!   Through systematic excavations we ended up finding a temple offering set in Greek style—definitely from the time of Alexander the Great.”

Often, says Hiebert, fact is more interesting than fantasy.

Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology was developed in partnership with Lucasfilm, X3 Productions, Penn Museum, Université Laval, co-curators Michel Fortin and Fredrik Hiebert. It will be at the Montreal Science Centre from April 28-September 18, 2011.

Watch the Exhibition Trailer

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Amy Bucci is a web producer for National Geographic. Her projects mainly cover National Geographic explorers, grantees and initiatives.