3. Sylvanus Morley
Even though he looked like the typical “egghead” professor, Sylvanus Morley, an American archaeologist for the School of American Archaeology, was capable of brave feats, especially as a spy in Central America for the Office of Naval Intelligence during World War I. Morley, who was an expert on the Native American cultures of the Southwest, first began exploring Mexico in the early 20th century. His interest was the Mayan civilization, and in 1912, he began excavating the city of Chichen Itza. Here, Morley found his bliss, and in 1913, his plan to start fully excavating the ancient city was approved by the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
World War I interrupted Morley’s plans, however, but the patriotic archaeologist decided to use his vast knowledge of Central America and his cover of a working archaeologist in order to spy on possible German naval activity south of the American border. Morley proved to be as good of a spy as he was an archaeologist, and even though he never managed to find any evidence that the Germans were hiding U-boat pens along the Central American coastline, he did manage to chart thousands of miles of terrain and even continued to file intelligence reports until 1922. Even before his death in 1948, Morley was regarded as one of the world’s finest Mesoamerican archaeologists.
2. Robert John Braidwood
Like his mentor James Henry Breasted, Robert John Braidwood was an archaeologist, a professor at the University of Chicago, and an expert on the ancient civilizations of the Middle East. Along with his wife and partner Linda, Dr. Braidwood helped to modernize the field of archaeology beginning in the 1940s. One of his most sensational finds was the village of Jarmo, a settlement at the foothills of the Zagros Mountains that began around 6800 BC. On top of this, while working in Turkey’s Amik Valley (then called the Amuq Plain), Braidwood became one of the first archaeologists to rigorously use Willard Libby’s process of carbon dating in order to ascertain the age of ancient artifacts.
Although the very image of scholarly modesty, Braidwood did his part during World War II as the director of a meteorological mapping program for the US Army Air Corps. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1943 with a PhD, the newly minted Dr. Braidwood was hired by Chicago’s Oriental Institute and the Department of Anthropology, where he would remain until his retirement. Throughout his career, Braidwood specialized in particularly ancient and somewhat mysterious sites, such as the Neolithic city of Cayonu in modern-day Turkey, where it is speculated that human sacrifice was practiced.
Although not as dashing or larger-than-life as many of the men who have been labeled “the real Indiana Jones,” Braidwood did oversee numerous archaeological digs in the Middle East during the Cold War years, when the Middle East was a battleground, both real and political, between the United States, the Soviet Union, and their competing allies.