University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Culture clash and the Temple of Doom

April 21, 2011

It’s no secret that Dr. Jones, better known as Indiana, did not always use the methods that were very sensitive to local culture. In fact, it was even highlighted in a letter regarding his denial of tenure at his fictional college. But it was in Temple of Doom that Indy ran into his most diverse problems – starting with the Asian mafia and ending with a rowdy band of Thuggees eager to remove other people’s hearts.

It’s difficult to defend some of the stereotypes displayed in the movie (chilled monkey brains, anyone?), but what the movie did succeed in was bridging the gap from Western-based themes (gold hunting and Judeo-Christian relics) to discover more about people and even active cultures that exist outside of the mainstream. And it is that idea – one of discovering new cultures – that this exhibit tries to harness.

It is easy to succumb to the allure of gold jewelry, but its another step entirely to learn the story behind the objects and the sites they were recovered from. In Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology, the exhibit tries to connect Dr. Jones’ adventures with actual explorations undertaken in the 20th century, and why certain sites can educate more than initially thought.

One of site focused on is Hiram Bingham’s initial exploration of Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, which helped introduce the amazing wonder site to a large audience, and it still holds much of its initial excitement to this day. National Geographic even lent one of Bingham’s personal photo albums to the exhibit, which is an impressive piece of first-hand documentation.

Hiram Bingham
Hiram Bingham in 1911, courtesy of the National Geographic Society.

Bingham’s work with highlighting the Inca culture was able to shed a new light onto a previously unknown (to many) civilization. On the other side of the world, archaeologists from Penn were working at Tepe Hissar in Iran, were able to uncover a treasure trove of information. While the site didn’t yield objects as glamorous as found at other sites, it did help inform the academic world to the melting pot that was the settlement. Its strategic location along trading routes meant Tepe Hissar saw many different cultures over a long time-period – from their early settlement several millenia ago from hunter-gatherers to established agriculture – as evident in the wide range of articles excavated, which has helped educate scholars learn much about the region they did not know.

Hissar Cup featuring ram design, Penn Museum #33-21-116.

The hunt for treasure is regularly at the front of people’s minds when they hear of archaeological excavations, but treasures of knowledge are oftentimes more valuable than treasures of gold.

Tomorrow: Every object tells a story

  • Anne Murray

    I also think
    the face which has been conserved looks male.

    • mgleeson

      Well, I guess this discussion supports the fact that there is still some confusion over whether this coffin was originally made for a man or woman. I hope the conservation treatment will help us solve this mystery, and we’ll certainly keep the blog updated as we learn more.

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