Glamorous Digs: Does Indiana Jones Action Help Archaeology? Miniseries Focuses on Exploits of Amateurs

By Alan Bunce, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 1995 | Go to article overview

Glamorous Digs: Does Indiana Jones Action Help Archaeology? Miniseries Focuses on Exploits of Amateurs


Alan Bunce, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


'Real archaeology is not good theater," says Professor Sarah Nelson, head of the anthropology department at Colorado's University of Denver.

Yes, but what about Indiana Jones shooting it out with Nazis, or leaping on a moving truck to escape villains?

It may be good theater, but even Indy Jones fans would probably admit it isn't "real" archaeology. So it may come as a surprise that at least some archaeologists themselves, including Professor Nelson, tolerate or even applaud the vision of archaeology offered in the media.

"The glamorizing of archaeology in films and TV isn't necessarily a bad thing," Nelson maintains. "It piques people's interest. Who, after all, would watch hours of someone stooped over the dirt during a dig," she chuckles. "I feel letting the public know, in a responsible way, is a good thing, even if it isn't perfect."

Her comments came in response to a question about the Discovery Channel's upcoming miniseries "Seekers of the Lost Treasure," airing Sunday, July 30, and Monday, July 31, from 9-11 p.m.

The production is a dramatically presented, meticulously researched documentary about four amateur archaeologists whose exploits span two centuries. The series ranges from the swashbuckling Giovanni Belzoni at the time of Napoleon to the late Michael Rockefeller, whose father was then governor of New York and a future presidential candidate. The opening show describes Michael's disappearance on an expedition to New Guinea in 1961.

For its producer, Anthony Geffen, the production falls halfway between Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" movies and the academic approach. The show uses evocative music and lots of dramatic camera work, yet the action is based on carefully reconstructed events.

"We did incredible amounts of research to get the details right," says Mr. Geffen, reached by phone in London. "We went to the exact location, used the exact object or a replica. We were trying to capture the spirit of the people and times."

Although the production uses some reenactments, the series has no dialogue. "For me there is a line drawn there," Geffen says. Even for spoken voiceovers, "we used exact quotes from diaries and newspapers," he notes. …

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