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

Updated September 23, 2021 2.6k votes 253 voters 5k views13 items

List RulesVote 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.

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    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.

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    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.

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  • Photo: John Zephaniah Holwell (1711-98) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    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.

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  • Photo: William Carpenter / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    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. 

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