Indiana Jones materials to appear on display at Oriental Institute Museum

The contents of a package of Indiana Jones material that mysteriously arrived at the University of Chicago will be on display beginning Thursday, Dec. 20 and continuing through March 31 in the lobby of the Oriental Institute Museum.

The mystery began Dec. 12, when a package addressed to “Henry Walton Jones, Jr.” arrived at the University of Chicago Admissions Office.

A student worker realized that the package was meant for Dr. Indiana Jones, the famous archaeologist of Raiders of the Lost Ark fame. Inside the package was a journal of Abner Ravenwood, the fictional UChicago professor who trained Indiana Jones.

Six days after its arrival, the mystery was solved. The package, a collection of replica props from the Indiana Jones films, had been purchased online and shipped by its maker from Guam to Italy. 

The original packaging was lost in transit in Honolulu, Hawaii, leaving only the parcel addressed to Henry Walton Jones Jr. of the University of Chicago, which the postal service then forwarded. Paul Charfauros, who created the journal, donated it to the University of Chicago. 

Some suggest that two real-life pioneering scholars of the Oriental Institute—James Henry Breasted and Robert John Braidwood—inspired the fictional characters of Abner Ravenwood and Indiana Jones. Unlike some Hollywood depictions of archaeologists, Breasted and Braidwood were not treasure hunters.

Breasted (1865–1935) was an Egyptologist at UChicago and the first American to hold a PhD in Egyptology. He was the first to advocate that the roots of Western civilization lie in the ancient Middle East. Breasted founded the Oriental Institute in 1919, and during the 1920s and 1930s, he initiated important philological projects and archaeological expeditions all over the Middle East.

Braidwood (1907-2003) was an archaeologist and anthropologist who focused on the prehistoric Near East. He joined the Oriental Institute’s Amuq Plain Expedition (present-day Turkey) in the 1930s. After serving in the Army Air Corps in World War II, he received his PhD from UChicago and became a professor at the Oriental Institute and the Department of Anthropology. He is best known for his pioneering work with radiocarbon dating and his ecological approach to the early farming societies of prehistoric Iraq.