In 1981, the world suddenly became obsessed with archaeology. That year, Raiders of the Lost Ark was released. An immediate hit, the film gave the world a new hero—the rakishly handsome adventurer and academic Indiana Jones. Inspired by the square-jawed heroes of 1930s pulp fiction and movie serials, the hard-boiled Jones became such a popular hero that people wanted him to be real. Some took this as a call to become archaeologists, while others began scouring the history books in search of Jones’s real-life counterpart.
What people have come up with over the years are a series of names, most of whom were either professional or amateur archaeologists in their own time. Some have proven controversial, such as the occultist and unwilling Nazi scientist Otto Rahn, while others seem far-fetched. This list is an attempt to shed light on Indy’s ancestors and maybe even the man (or men) who gave Indiana Jones the breath of life. Some names might be familiar to you, while others may be a complete mystery.
10. Roy Chapman Andrews
Roy Chapman Andrews was a celebrated explorer for the American Museum of Natural History who famously explored the Gobi Desert using a fleet of Dodge cars. While there, Andrews and his team unearthed numerous complete skeletons of previously undocumented small and large dinosaurs, as well as the remains of several insect species and the bones of large mammals. In the 1920s and 1930s, Andrews’s exploits were celebrated in the world press. After retiring in the 1940s, Chapman became a popular writer of children’s books about dinosaurs.
Andrews is also the man most commonly associated with Indiana Jones. Like Jones, Chapman was a lean yet muscular man who took to the field wearing a slouch hat and sporting a pistol. Andrews wasn’t afraid to use his weapon on occasion, and the books he wrote about his own travels in China and elsewhere are littered with shoot-outs and fight scenes that would not be out of place in the pulp magazines of his day. Andrews said that in his life, the threat of death was an almost constant companion:
In [my first] fifteen years [of field work] I can remember just ten times when I had really narrow escapes from death. Two were from drowning in typhoons, one was when our boat was charged by a wounded whale, once my wife and I were nearly eaten by wild dogs, once we were in great danger from fanatical lama priests, two were close calls when I fell over cliffs, once was nearly caught by a huge python, and twice I might have been killed by bandits.
Like Indy, Andrews was a well-educated and gifted archaeologist who preferred action to cloistered study. The two also share a preference for revolvers and an antipathy for snakes. In regards to the latter, Jones has an irrational fear of snakes, while Andrews gained his loathing after vipers, who were fleeing the nighttime cold of the Gobi Desert, found their way into his camp. When they realized what was happening, Andrews and his team killed 47 highly venomous snakes in a fashion that Indiana Jones would have approved.