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Media Advisory 08-024

NSF Launches Special Report to Highlight Differences and Similarities Between the Worlds of Science and Indiana Jones

Photos of workers excavating and ancient Egyptian skeleton.

Workers excavate an ancient Egyptian skeleton at Hierakonpolis.

May 21, 2008

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

As audiences around the world eagerly await the opening of the fourth installment in the Indiana Jones film saga on May 22, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched a special report on its Web site that illustrates where the real world of archaeology diverges from the "reel" world, as well as where they infrequently intersect.

While no one expects that the fictional Indiana Jones, the hero of four swashbuckling tales of adventure, to resemble real scientists, archaeologists concede that parallels do exist with their work.

NSF-supported archeologists do discover "lost cities." They try to figure out what happened to "vanished civilizations" and whether what caused their collapse may have relevance to contemporary problems. They seek rare and precious artifacts that tell important stories about the past, even if those artifacts are minute snails and the scrapings of ancient teeth and not golden idols. They "deal with Native peoples," though with respect, as partners in the process of learning about the past, rather than with weapons. And certainly, as is jokingly noted in the latest Indian Jones adventure, teaching is an important part of what they do.

"We focus on anthropological archaeology," says John Yellen, NSF's program director for archaeology and archometry in the Social, Behavioral & Economic Science directorate. "We're trying to understand broad principles of human behavior."

The new special report features tales of the scientific work being done by NSF-funded archaeologists working as far afield as the Aleutians and Egypt, China and the deserts of Mexico or as close as Mississippi.

It may be found at


Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7761, email:

Program Contacts
John E. Yellen, NSF, (703) 292-8759, email:
Anna M. Kerttula de Echave, NSF, (703) 292-7432, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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