Fort Worth

May 2, 2014

Fort Worth museum’s Indiana Jones exhibit makes archaeology ‘cool’

For every prop from the movie series, there’s a real artifact from as long ago as 7,000 years.

The curator of “ Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archeology” shamelessly admits he’s out to get the kids.

“I love to watch kids run out of here thinking, ‘I’m going to become the next great archaeologist,’ ” said Fred Hiebert, a National Geographic archaeologist. “I get excited when they come into the archaeology sections and say, ‘This is just as cool as Hollywood.’ ”

Hiebert escorted his boss, Gary Knell, around the exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in late April. It was Knell’s first chance since becoming National Geographic’s president and CEO a few months ago to see the exhibit, which juxtaposes about 100 props used in the four Indiana Jones movies with an equal number of real artifacts from ancient civilizations around the world.

For every fake Chachapoyan fertility idol and Staff of Ra headpiece, there’s a 4,500-year-old gold-leaf wreath from ancient Ur or a Precolumbian embossed-gold plaque from Sitio Conte, Panama. In addition to the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones and a complete Crystal Skull alien, visitors find a clay tablet inscribed around 1500 B.C. with the world’s oldest map.

Such “A-tier” artifacts make for an exhibit that rivals anything ever shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the British Museum in London, Hiebert said.

A 7,000-year-old piece of ceramic that was found in Iran is from the side of a pot, and a scientist at the University of Pennsylvania “did an analysis of the residue on the inside of that and found evidence of the world’s oldest wine,” Hiebert said. “Wow!”

Many of the exhibit’s genuine artifacts are from the University of Pennsylvania’s collection. Others are part of National Geographic’s own history, including a photo album created by a man who Hiebert suspects was the model for the Indiana Jones character Hiram Bingham.

“He changed the game of archaeology and changed the game for National Geographic by taking stunning photographs in 1913 … . He was National Geographic’s first grantee for archaeology.”

Amazement waits around virtually every corner for museum guests who open their minds to the experience. Using headphones and tablets, visitors hear audio for Indiana Jones movie clips playing on several monitors and interact with the exhibit on the origins and mysteries surrounding the real artifacts.

Tablets covered with Mayan hieroglyphs, for instance, are near a monitor playing a video of an anthropologist named Simon Martin, who decoded some of them.

“He reads from those tablets in a language that otherwise hasn’t been heard in hundreds of years,” Hiebert said.

Archaeologists search for the meaning in whatever they find, Hiebert said. Aerial photos of the Nasca Lines of the Peruvian desert, for example, are augmented by Nasca pottery with designs similar to those carved into the land.

“You start realizing: ‘Oh! You don’t have to invoke aliens to explain this civilization,’ ” Hiebert said.

That kind of thinking is what the magazine is all about, Knell, the new CEO, said.

“At National Geographic, we like to inspire, illuminate and teach a few things, too, but do it in a way that reaches folks,” Knell said. “That’s part of National Geographic’s mission, and we’re delighted to work here in North Texas to make that happen.”

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