Photo: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

13 Historical Details The 'Indiana Jones' Franchise Actually Got Totally Right

Voting Rules
Vote up the bits of historical accuracy that earn the filmmakers bonus points on their assignment.

An archaeologist who spends his days dodging elaborate ancient booby traps and punching bad guys is obviously more Flash Gordon than David Attenborough. But despite the action movie explosions and supernatural activity, there's a substantial amount of historical accuracy in Indiana Jones movies. These little tidbits add believability to what are ultimately works of fiction (with plenty of fan theories to go along with the fiction).

The hard part is discerning fact from fiction. For example, historical details in Raiders of the Lost Ark are placed next to the fictional Staff of Ra. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull decided to throw aliens into the mix. Some of the believable bits are really fabrications, and some of the actual factual parts are pretty unbelievable.

This list tries to clear that all up by featuring the biggest true stories in the Indy franchise.

Photo: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures

  • 1
    225 VOTES

    The Chachapoyas Were A Real People

    The tribe chasing Indy at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark really did exist... a really long time ago. The Chachapoya tribe lived in pre-Columbian Peru from the 800s until the 1470s, when the Inca rolled in and subjugated them. Considering the size and defensibility of the Chachapoyas' mountain citadels, that must have been no easy task.

    The Chachapoyas were all about cliffs, with fortifications built into cliffs, tombs built into cliffs, you name it. That's why their name is derived from the Incan term for "cloud people." What they called themselves is anybody's guess, as much of their history has been lost.

    225 votes
  • Thuggees Were Hunted By The British Army
    Photo: William Carpenter / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    215 VOTES

    Thuggees Were Hunted By The British Army

    When the British took over the rule of India, the Thuggees (or Thugs) posed a major problem because they believed in religious, ritual slaying. 

    Beginning in 1835, Sir William Henry Sleeman began a campaign to end the Thuggees. A police force dedicated to hunting Thuggees and dacoits (another cult of criminals) was formed. Over 1,400 Thuggees were hanged or imprisoned for life by Sleeman's work.

    These operations successfully infiltrated the Thuggee organization and caused it to collapse, which won a lot of Indian citizens over to British rule as the highways became much safer for travelers and merchants. 

    215 votes
  • 3
    269 VOTES

    There Actually Was A Guy Just Like Indy: Roy Chapman Andrews

    Roy Chapman Andrews, the prototypical adventuring archaeologist, was a doppelgänger for Indiana Jones, right down to the hat. He escaped bandits, was nearly taken out by a huge python, and had a run-in with fanatical lama priests, among other exploits.

    Andrews, born in 1884 in the woods of Wisconsin, later took up taxidermy, mounting deer to pay his way through Beloit College. When he met a curator New York City’s American Museum of Natural History who was visiting the college to give a lecture, Andrews decided to move to New York to pursue a career at the museum. He started out washing the floors.

    Once in the field, he circumnavigated the globe several times while studying whales, spending time in Japan and Korea. He scoured the Gobi Desert of China and Mongolia, where he found the first-ever dinosaur egg. While in the Gobi, he had a few brushes with danger, including one incident where his camp filled with 47 pit vipers. Yes, it had to be snakes.

    Finally, Andrews retired from the field to become the director of the American Natural History Museum in 1934. He remained there, allowing copious time for travel, until he retired in 1942.

    269 votes
  • 4
    211 VOTES

    The City Of Tanis Did Exist, Was Lost For Centuries, Then Rediscovered In The 1930s

    Tanis, referred to in the Old Testament as Zoan, was the capital of Egypt from 1075 BCE to 712 BCE. They built a lot of cool stuff there, such as the Temple of Amun, so it might be surprising that people just plum forgot where it was. As the Nile River shifted its course, the land changed its complexion, and as Tanis declined, the capital was moved to Memphis. Then Tanis was lost to the ages until its rediscovery in 1939.

    Archaeologists, led by Pierre Montet of France, found items once owned by Sheshonq I, whose name is dropped in the Bible, and uncovered the temples of Amun and Horus. The discovery was on the level of King Tut's tomb, but unfortunately for Monet, it was overshadowed by the outbreak of WWI. All in all, the dig pretty much looked like what you see in the film.

    211 votes
  • Archaeology Professors Are Teachers First, Diggers Second
    Photo: Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark / Paramount Pictures
    164 VOTES

    Archaeology Professors Are Teachers First, Diggers Second

    As awkward as Indiana Jones looks standing in front of a class in a three-piece tweed suit and glasses, it captures the essence of real archaeology. Archaeology professors spend most of their time in the classroom rather than globetrotting on digs - at least they did in the 1930s.

    Today most archaeologists fall into the broad category of "cultural resource management" (CRM), defined by one source as "cultural heritage management within a framework of federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and guidelines."

    This work can be done by private businesses or governmental agencies. CRM archaeologists don't usually fly around the world in search of treasures, but do work with communities to protect existing cultural resources or explore local historical mysteries.

    164 votes
  • The Thuggees Were A Real Cult Fraternity
    Photo: John Zephaniah Holwell (1711-98) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    242 VOTES

    The Thuggees Were A Real Cult Fraternity

    The bizarre cult in Temple of Doom was not completely made up. The Thuggees (or Thugs) were a cult of Indians who devoted themselves to the worship of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and creation. The secret, hereditary cult followed ancient techniques and viewed the whole process as a type of religious ritual.  

    Thuggees acted as professional highwaymen, targeting wealthy travelers and gaining their confidence before slaying them and taking their stuff. They even used special jargon and hand signs to secretly communicate with each other and avoid detection.

    The cult operated from the 1300s to the 1800s and may have slain an estimated 2 million people.

    242 votes