Archaeology in the Movies

Next in our student series is Christopher Howell, who examines the most recent “Mummy” movie and discusses the classic tropes and stereotypes within.

Archaeology in Movies

Archaeology has a difficult relationship with the cinema. Many famous movies that portray archaeology do it all wrong, a classic example being the “Indiana Jones” franchise. While it is fun to watch and considered a classic to most Americans, it is vastly wrong in its portrayal of archaeology. Another popular movie franchise that features archeology is the new “Mummy” movie.

“The Mummy” movie poster (Source:

Before I start talking about archaeology in the movies, I should probably describe the movie. “The Mummy” is about a man named Nick Morton (played by Tom Cruise) who find a sarcophagus of an ancient Egyptian princess in village while fighting off an enemy unit. After unearthing the tomb, archaeologist Jenny Halsey (played by Annabelle Wallis) is sent in to explore the tomb with Nick and his friend, and Nick ends up releasing the mummy and being cursed. The rest of the movie is spent trying to stop the released mummy from destroying the world. That the plot in the simplest form.

In the “The Mummy” (2017) there isn’t very much archaeology going on, but it does give insight into a classic problem in archaeology, which is looting. Looting has gone hand in hand with archaeology since its creation, mainly since some of the very first “archaeologists” were looters. Looting is one of the first actions in the movie because the main character (Tom Cruise) travels to the village in search of items and artifacts that he can take and sell. This is actually quite common today in archeology, because many groups such as ISIS will raid sites and sell artifacts on the black market as a way of making money. One other aspect that I liked and was accurate is that the main archaeologist in the movie is female. Movies, like the original “Mummy” and “Indiana Jones,” give people false impressions that archaeology is a man’s job when it isn’t, and there are quite a few famous female archaeologists throughout history.

One big problem with the archaeology in this movie is something that almost all of these movies have, which is the fact that there is one treasure in the center of the tomb. This is the classic trope, which is not true in the real world; examining a site would take anywhere from weeks to years not a couple of minutes to an hour. Archaeology sites are filled with multiple square-shaped holes that each have their own different artifacts (or none sometimes). I also doubt the U.S. military would care anything about an archaeological site, because even today many archaeology sites have become abandoned due to fighting in the Middle East. The last trope that I want to discuss, especially because of this movie, is the mummy’s curse. The mummy’s curse does not exist; it is one trope that was made famous by these types of movies.

Those are some of the main points about archaeology in the movie I wanted to make clear. While the beginning of the movie is the only part that has anything to do with archaeology, it does offer small insights into archaeology and allows for certain popular tropes to be cleared up.


“The Mummy”. DVD. Directed by Alex Kurtzman. Universal Pictures, June 9, 2017.


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