Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, for real

July 19, 2008

Don’t know how I missed this story earlier: Actor Harrison Ford won election to the Board of Directors of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA).

In 1992, this hollow rock-crystal skull was sent to the Smithsonian anonymously. A letter accompanying the 30-pound, 10-inch-high artifact suggested it was of Aztec origin. (James Di Loreto & Donald Hurlburt/Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

Caption from AIA's Archaeology: "In 1992, this hollow rock-crystal skull was sent to the Smithsonian anonymously. A letter accompanying the 30-pound, 10-inch-high artifact suggested it was of Aztec origin. (James Di Loreto & Donald Hurlburt/Courtesy Smithsonian Institution)"

He doesn’t just play one on the silver screen — he is one. Or at least, he’s part of the professional association. The press report from AIA stressed Ford’s support for archaeology and knowledge.

The Archaeological Institute of America is North America’s oldest and largest non-profit organization devoted to archaeology. With more nearly a quarter of a million members and subscribers and 105 local chapters, it promotes archaeological excavation, research, education, and preservation on a global basis. At the core of its mission is the belief that an understanding of the past enhances our shared sense of humanity and enriches our existence. As archaeological finds are a non-renewable resource, the AIA’s work benefits not only the current generation, but also those yet to come in the future.

“Harrison Ford has played a significant role in stimulating the public’s interest in archaeological exploration,” said Brian Rose, President of the AIA. “We are all delighted that he has agreed to join the AIA’s Governing Board.”

AIA was chartered by Congress in 1906 — a full decade before the Boy Scouts of America, for comparison — with a charge to help enforce the Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. § 431).

More interesting, and more useful in the classroom, are the story and sidebar in the online magazine of the Institute, which notes that the crystal skull stories involve faked artifacts — and even that the idol in the opening scene of the very first Indy movie involves a faked artifact.

“Legend of the Crystal Skulls: The truth behind Indianapolis Jones’s latest quest” tells a great story by Jane MacLaren Walsh, a true story, the best kind for history buffs.

Sixteen years ago, a heavy package addressed to the nonexistent “Smithsonian Inst. Curator, MezoAmerican Museum, Washington, D.C.” was delivered to the National Museum of American History. It was accompanied by an unsigned letter stating: “This Aztec crystal skull, purported to be part of the Porfirio Díaz collection, was purchased in Mexico in 1960…. I am offering it to the Smithsonian without consideration.” Richard Ahlborn, then curator of the Hispanic-American collections, knew of my expertise in Mexican archaeology and called me to ask whether I knew anything about the object–an eerie, milky-white crystal skull considerably larger than a human head.

I told him I knew of a life-sized crystal skull on display at the British Museum, and had seen a smaller version the Smithsonian had once exhibited as a fake. After we spent a few minutes puzzling over the meaning and significance of this unusual artifact, he asked whether the department of anthropology would be interested in accepting it for the national collections. I said yes without hesitation. If the skull turned out to be a genuine pre-Columbian Mesoamerican artifact, such a rare object should definitely become part of the national collections.

I couldn’t have imagined then that this unsolicited donation would open an entirely new avenue of research for me.

Great story. In the classroom, it shows the methods of archaeologists and historians. Walsh reveals how archaeologists work, and along the way she details a lot of the history that prompts adventure stories like the Indiana Jones series.

Archaeology, the real stuff, never nukes the fridge.

File these links and this article away. The new movie in the “Mummy” series with Brendan Fraser in the starring role, is due out August 1, “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” The new movie is set on a dig in China, presenting more opportunities to use popular entertainment as an entré to real history, and real science (and probably all sorts of historical errors to correct).

But while the latest Indiana Jones epic reunites Jones with Marian Ravenwood played by Karen Allen, Rachel Weisz doesn’t appear in the pending Mummy installment. Weisz was replaced by another actress playing Evelyn O’Connell.


Powerline jumps on the chance to screw up

July 19, 2008

As long as there’s a dogpile of screw-ups, Powerline thought they’d jump on, regarding the hoaxes about a change in position on global warming at the American Physical Society.

If a lot of people screw up, where’s the shame? Right?

Powerline said, contrary to the facts:

Most people do not realize that the U.N.’s IPCC report was a political document, not a scientific one. As such, it explicitly refused to consider any of the recent scientific work on carbon dioxide and the earth’s climate. That work seems to show rather definitively that human activity has little to do with climate change, which has occurred constantly for millions of years.

Anyone who still had illusions that Powerline thinks about anything before they post it, or that they have any controls on accuracy or care for the facts, has had that illusion shattered. Of course, Powerline is a political organ, with not a whiff of science about it.

Give a fool enough rope . . .

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