Expecting Indiana Jones to be a scientifically accurate archaeologist makes about as much sense as James Bond ditching his missile-launching Aston Martin for a Prius.
But we at Asylum are dreamers and bullwhip enthusiasts, which is why we sent archaeologist Kristin Romey -- who has a habit of hanging around South American sacrificial sites -- to a screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" to find out the truth.
Here are the most-and least-believable archaeological bits from "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull":Believable: Archaeologists May Work as Spies
Early on in the film, there are many references to Indy's time as a spy during WWII. Archaeologists have a long history of using scientific expeditions to cover up government snooping. Among the many examples are Samuel Lothrop, who was recruited by the FBI to keep tabs on the Nazis in Peru during the war, and Frank Hibben, who claimed to have monitored Chinese nuclear tests while working in Asia in the 1950s.Unbelievable: Crystal Skulls
Crystal skulls are representations of human skulls carved out of hunks of quartz. Supposedly these skulls were made thousands of years ago by ancient civilizations (usually the Aztec or the Maya) in the area between Mexico and Honduras and have special powers (mind control, curing cancer, etc.). Since they were so powerful, people reason, they must have played a part in religious or sacrificial ceremonies.Click to the jump for more information about crystal skulls and Indiana Jones.
I once asked a Maya priest about the existence of crystal skulls. He laughed and said something to the effect of, "Dumb*ss gringo tourist and his cash are easily parted." (Seriously, all the evidence we have points to these things first being made with modern tools in the late 1800s for superstitious Europeans.)
Still, some believers claim that there are 13 "true" skulls, which may be "ancient microchips" made by aliens. When the 13 skulls are assembled in one special spot, their combined energy will save us from the dreaded day of Dec. 21, 2012 (the day the Maya calendar ends and therefore, many reason, the day the world will end).
In "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," Spielberg sidesteps the whole end-of-the-world thing and focuses on the goal of reuniting the 13 alien-made skulls. (For some reason, the missing skull is in Peru -- as are the Maya, which is like sticking the Romans in Timbuktu.) Believable: Archaeologists Pack Heat
Very few people can handle a whip the way Indy does, but archaeologists working in dangerous regions (say, rebel-infested areas of the Amazon) have been known to carry protection on occasion, or at least have a well-armed local nearby. I once worked on a dig in the Middle East where we had to have a military escort (read: soldiers in a pickup with a 50-caliber machine gun mounted to the truck bed) lead us everywhere. Unbelievable: Messing with Mummies Without Protection
There's a scene in "Crystal Skull" where our intrepid archaeologist finds himself in a fetid tomb full of mummies, and eagerly starts ripping into the chest cavity of one of them with his bare hands. A real archaeologist wouldn't have even come close to the thing without at least a good respirator and gloves. Remember King Tut? It wasn't a mummy's curse that killed off almost a dozen members of the excavation
team: It was just really toxic mummy mold. Believable: Archaeologists Can Be Total Horndogs
Sure, as a professor, Indy wears a bowtie and acts mild-mannered, but if you're looking for a lifetime of monogamy, don't marry someone who spends months on end at remote sites with a gaggle of worshipful students. Marion shoulda known. Unbelievable: Being Caught Without a Pencil
OK, the scene where Indy tore into a mummy with his bare hands raised an eyebrow, but I almost fell out of my seat when he turned to his sidekick Mutt and asked to borrow a knife. Not even completely incompetent archaeologists go anywhere without a multi-purpose knife and a pen and paper (and maybe even a measuring tape) to at least make a basic record of what they find. It got even worse in a later scene when the archaeologist had to borrow a freakin' pencil. What's Indy carrying in his shoulder bag -- a change of undies and some trail mix? Believable: There's Such a Thing as "Space Archaeology" (and We May Soon Be Competing with the Russians over Extraterrestrial Artifacts)
The plot of "Crystal Skulls" centers around a Soviet attempt to grab an extraterrestrial artifact out of American hands, and then do terrible things with it. Crazy sci-fi stuff, huh? But it's already been 15 years since astronauts brought the first human-made artifacts from space to earth for analysis. Experts think it won't be too long before the United States and Russia start racing to recover each other's top-secret Cold War lunar modules from space. Unbelievable: Snatch N' Grab
From the infamous gold idol grab in the first scene of the very first "Raiders" to the way Indy casually tosses the crystal skull into a backpack minutes after he finds it, Mr. Jones constantly breaks the first commandment of the job: Thou Shalt Document. Before an artifact is even moved, it has to be drawn, photographed and carefully excavated. This makes for a lousy action film, but the information we get from what surrounds the object, and how the object fits in to the bigger picture, may tell us more about a gold idol than the idol itself. Believable: The Nazca Lines
So maybe the crystal skulls are BS. The Nazca Lines -- the incredible designs carved out of the desert over 1,000 years ago, so large that they can only be seen from the air -- are real, and archaeologists are still trying to figure out how they were made and what they mean. Researchers agree, though, that these amazing symbols weren't made by aliens. (Hey Spielberg: How about giving us humans a little credit once in a while, huh?) Unbelievable: Aliens
At risk of spoiling the ending, if there are any archaeologists I know of who have seen a flying saucer erupt out of a Peruvian pyramid (at least while sober), they ain't talking.