A new thriller, As Above/So Below, follows in a long tradition of Hollywood movies. Mad Men co-star Ben Feldman and Edwin Hodge play archaeologists who explore miles of unmapped catacombs under the streets of Paris and uncover a dark secret beneath the City of Lights.
According to Romancing the Stones: Archaeology in Popular Culture by Mark A. Hall, every decade since the 1920s has produced at least one film dealing with the eerie aspects of archaeology. “In the 1932 film The Mummy,” writes Hall, “the archaeologist Sir Joseph Whemple states: ‘much more is learned from studying bits of broken pottery than from all the sensational finds. Our job is to increase the sum of human knowledge of the past,’ but it is often as a foil for the supernatural elements to come.”
Harrison Ford played the screen’s most famous archaeologist, Indiana Jones. He is, as Major Eaton (William Hootkins) describes him, “a professor of archeology, expert on the occult, and how does one say it? Obtainer of rare antiquities.”
In each of the four movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, the Last Crusade and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a fabled object has great supernatural power. Whether it is the Ark of the Covenant, the Shiva Stones, the Holy Grail or an extraterrestrial crystal skull, Indy unleashes all kinds of trouble in the present because he messes with the past.
Angelina Jolie became a superstar playing Lara Croft, the athletic, aristocratic archaeologist and star of two movies, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Cradle of Life.
The character originated in a wildly popular video game series that saw her track down meteorite fragments that endowed humans with supernatural powers and magical stones. On film Jolie’s Croft said, “Everything lost is meant to be found,” as she stirred up trouble by uncovering ancient talismans and rescuing Pandora’s Box from an evil scientist.
The movie that established the link between archaeology and the paranormal was 1932s The Mummy. Inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the controversy over his “curse” in 1922—rumours of a jinx began after Lord Carnarvon, the man who sponsored the dig of King Tut’s Tomb, died six weeks after the discovery—the film uses a Mummy’s spell as the catalyst for the action.
In the spooky movie Sir Joseph Whemple (David Manners) translates the hieroglyphics: “’Death… eternal punishment… for… anyone… who… opens… this… casket. In the name… of Amon-Ra… the king of the gods.’ Good heavens, what a terrible curse!”