1. James Henry Breasted
James Henry Breasted remains a titan of archaeology. An Egyptologist who spent most of his career at the University of Chicago (which also has a connection with the character of Indiana Jones), Breasted is noted for founding the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, as well as coining the term “Fertile Crescent” as a way to describe the verdant splendor of the ancient Middle East. As the director of the University of Chicago’s Haskell Oriental Museum, Breasted contributed numerous artifacts from all over the Near East to the museum’s impressive collection.
Breasted’s most famous excavation occurred in Egypt from 1922–23. There, he aided Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon in their efforts to unlock all the secrets of Tutankhamun’s tomb. This action places Breasted smack-dab in the middle of one of archaeology’s greatest urban legends—the curse of Tutankhamun. Breasted’s role in helping to unearth King Tut’s body not only provided fodder for the sensationalist press (which in turn helped to create films such as 1932’s The Mummy), but also started a craze for all things Ancient Egypt in Europe and North America. It’s safe to say that Breasted played a role in popularizing the idea of the glamorous archaeologist, and even though he lacked the often heedless enthusiasm that so many of us associate with Indiana Jones, he did contribute greatly to the field and even to Sigmund Freud’s understanding of religion.