Real life tomb raiders – do they exist?


Tomb Raider

The adventurer archaeologist is a well known fictional trope, whether used in video games, film, TV or novels. Indiana Jones and Lara Croft are just two of the tomb raiders who have given an audience of millions thrills as they battle an evil adversary to righteously, er, well, usually steal something that manifestly doesn’t belong to them.

When you think about it, it’s kind of strange that the most well known fictional archaeologist adventurer is allegedly a fully employed teaching Professor at a University and yet on the side finds the time, energy and audacity to stay alive while battling Nazis in various foreign climes, all so s/he can take something that isn’t theirs any more than it is the Nazi’s.

We find ourselves rooting for the grave robber who’s actually on the side of reason, of course. Most people end up rooting for the obvious hero of the piece, after all. Even though anyone raiding a tomb is violating the wishes of someone somewhere, not least the dead person – even if they are an Ancient Egyptian. Whether we’re on the edge of our seat willing Dr Jones to defeat the Nazis, playing one of the several Tomb Raider console games or even one of the plethora of online games such as those available at - we’re always most definitely be on the side of the adventurer.

It could be argued that it’s worse when they get their hands on Egyptian riches. After all, those guys spent an awful lot of time and effort (and slaves) to make the temples of their death monumental, awe-inspiring and magnificent. They didn’t I’m sure, envisage posh people from England swanning in to strip their carefully selected offerings to the afterlife, in the name of historical research – or more likely, as Indiana Jones says himself: “For fortune and glory.”

Of course, these heroes and heroines of tomb raiding are based, at least in part, on real life explorers of yesteryear. These days, the truth about archaeology is more akin to episodes of Time Team where a team spends weeks brushing dust off a few broken pots, but back in the day, it wasn’t unheard of for troops of rich and well armed gents to hire themselves off to foreign climes in the interests of robbing a tomb or two.

Early archaeologists were probably keener to find lost treasure for their own ‘fortune and glory’ rather than actually finding out anything about ancient civilisations. By modern day standards they practically bulldozed their way through sites that would today be treated with due reverence and probably take decades to excavate. Anything found had to look the part, i.e. be pretty and sparkly to be taken for any value at all and we’ll probably never fully realise what has been lost through the cavalier attitude of 19th century and early 20th century archaeologists.

The most famous archaeologist finding that could be compared to Lara Croft and Indiana Jones is the discovery of the tomb of the boy king, Tutankhamun. The discovery of this tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter and George Herbert – also the fifth Earl of Carnarvon – started a renewed interest in Egyptian ‘treasure’. King Tut’s tomb was pretty much intact and was quickly emptied by the group of rather posh archaeologists.

Who knows whether archaeologists will ever find anything so incredible again, but we’re sure that whoever does the discovering won’t have much in common with swashbuckling Indy or implausibly adventurous Lara – they’re far more likely to be studious, quiet and very, very patient.

Real life tomb raiders – do they exist?
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  • savibha

    can i ever have a life like lara.