MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Take an archaeologist, give him a bullwhip and a pistol and you get...
(Soundbite of movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom")
Mr. ROY CHIAO (Actor): (As Lao Che) This is Indiana Jones, famous archaeologist.
Ms. KATE CAPSHAW (Actor): (As Willie Scott) Well, I thought archaeologists were always funny little men searching for their mommies.
Mr. HARRISON FORD (Actor): (As Indiana Jones) Mummies.
BLOCK: Indiana Jones did know his mummies and Latin and how to beat up on Nazis while saving a priceless artifact. The fictional archaeologist will be doing it again next month in the movie "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." For our series In Character, we've been profiling some of America's most indelible fictional creations. NPR's Christopher Joyce reports on what Indiana Jones has done for archaeology.
(Soundbite of movie, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade")
Mr. FORD: (As Indiana Jones) Forget any ideas you've got about lost cities, exotic travel and digging up the world. We do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.
CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Sure Indy.
(Soundbite of movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark")
Mr. FORD: Marion! Hang on!
JOYCE: As a professor at a swanky college, Harrison Ford wears tweed and a bow tie. During his field work, however, it's leather jackets, a pistol and a fedora.
(Soundbite of whip cracking)
JOYCE: And of course the bullwhip. Jones is no Bond, though. He doesn't drink martinis. He can be goofy. Beautiful women are okay, as long as they don't get in the way. He reads textbooks. But Indy is handsome, and he can beat up anybody. Definitely a stud with tenure.
(Soundbite of digging)
JOYCE: But then what about real archaeologists? How do their lives compare to Indy's? Let's go to Peru to find out.
Professor WINIFRED CREAMER (Archaeology; Northern Illinois University): We're standing in a ditch which may or may not fill with water. And the area right behind where we're working is where people throw trash. So, it's not really the romance of archaeology, is it? No, Indy would be - he'd be flying over in a helicopter or something.
JOYCE: That's Winifred Creamer. She's an archaeology professor at Northern Illinois University. Creamer's team is digging under twenty years of trash and 5,000 years of Peruvian dirt. Indian Jones would not dig here; there's no treasure. But it's not all dust and cactus. Creamer's team lives in a big house right next to the ocean, and yes, everybody there knows everything about Indy.
Prof. CREAMER: Indiana Jones is adventurous, brave and problem-solving. He has all these great characteristics.
JOYCE: On the other hand.
Prof. CREAMER: You could say Indiana Jones is the worst thing that ever happened to archeology because Indiana Jones has no respect for anybody or anything. And he walks a pretty fine line between what's an archaeologist and what's a professional looter.
JOYCE: Indy does take stuff, and it does seem that the character, created by producer George Lucas, can't quite decide where he stands on that.
As a teenager, in the Last Crusade movie, he chases after tomb raiders and manages, momentarily, to recover what they are stealing - the cross of Coronado.
(Soundbite of movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade")
Mr. RICHARD YOUNG (Actor): (As Fedora) You got heart, kid, but that belongs to me.
Mr. RIVER PHOENIX (Actor): (As young Indiana Jones) It belongs to Coronado.
Mr. YOUNG: Coronado's dead and so are all his grandchildren.
Mr. PHOENIX: This should be in a museum.
JOYCE: The young Indy believes artifacts should be studied by scientists, not stolen by treasure hunters. But as an adult in the "Temple of Doom" he says he wants fame and fortune. And in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" he clearly steals a statuette from a South American temple, which leads to that famous escape from the rolling boulder.
(Soundbite of music)
Indy ends up losing the statuette to Belloq, the Nazis' hired archaeologist. They meet later in a cafe in the Middle East and Belloq tells Indy they're both crooked.
Mr. PAUL FREEMAN (Actor): (As Dr. Rene Belloq) You and I are very much alike. Archaeology is our religion. Yet we have both fallen from the purer faith.
Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I'm a shadowy reflection of you.
JOYCE: In fact, the history of archaeology is peopled with real characters who now would be considered looters. Winifred Creamer sees a bit of Indy in people like Heinrich Schleimann - in the 1870s, Schleimann excavated many ancient sites, including the city of Troy, and appropriated countless artifacts for European museums.
On the other hand, George Lucas, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is widely quoted as saying he based the character on fictional heroes of the movie serials of the 1950s, people like Zorro and Flash Gordon.
Whoever he's based on, Indiana Jones does give archaeology some sizzle. Winifred Creamer says students love it, even if in the end there's no stake.
Prof. CREAMER: They come in thinking that they are going to talk about pyramids and gold and serious cool stuff. And instead, somebody wants to talk to them about tree-ring dating and radiocarbon and the atmosphere, so some of them really are turned off by it. And then others are intrigued by puzzling out an answer or the problem-solving aspect of it, and some of them stick around.
JOYCE: Among those who did stick around is 17-year-old Dylan Breternitz(ph). He worked with Creamer in Peru. Like Indy, Dylan's father is an archaeologist. So was his grandfather. Dylan was six when he saw his first Indy movie, and he still watches with his dad.
Mr. DYLAN BRETERNITZ (Archaeology student): I thought it was damn cool. I wanted to do that. We have all the boxed sets. Probably about once a month we'll bust out an Indiana Jones movie.
JOYCE: Bredernitz is known around the dig is having a knack for finding things - and wearing a hat that looks like Indy's.
Mr. BRETERNITZ: He does everything that all archaeologists want to do. You know, go on crazy adventures, and fight bad people, and you know, not steal stuff but save it from being destroyed by the bad guys.
JOYCE: And of course archaeologists know that Indiana Jones movies are not suppose to be about science. They're about adventure. And a very cool guy who just happens to have a Ph.D.
(Soundbite of movie "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom")
Mr. FORD: (As Indiana Jones) Wear your jewels to bed, princess?
Ms. CAPSHAW: (As Willie Scott) Yeah, and nothing else. That shock you?
Mr. FORD: Nothing shocks me, I'm a scientist.
JOYCE: Christopher Joyce, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.