What's the best part about living in the distant future? There's so much more past for you to explore! We take a look at some of science fiction's most illustrious antiquarians.
It's pretty much impossible to discuss fictional archaeologists without talking about Indiana Jones, but until a year ago he arguably wouldn't have belonged on this list. If nothing else - and I'm pretty sure that that film didn't accomplish anything else - Kingdom of the Crystal Skull firmly ensconced Indy in the realm of science fiction. Which is probably a good thing, considering Dr. Jones is generally considered the quintessential fictional archaeologist, the iconic representative of everything alluring about the discipline - solving history's mysteries, going on exotic adventures, stealing priceless cultural artifacts...it's all there! That said, Indy can't really be considered the preeminent archaeologist in science fiction.
That title would probably have to go to Stargate's Daniel Jackson, who in his various incarnations headlined both the original movie and a decade's worth of television, making him arguably the most prominent archaeologist in all of science fiction. As a nice bonus, he even occasionally bordered on being a vaguely realistic depiction of an actual archaeologist, particularly when he used his linguistic know-how in the original movie to decipher the language on the other side of the Stargate. And honestly, who can resist the oddball charm of James Spader?
There are plenty more scifi archaeologists; in fact, far more than any one list can hope to capture. But here's a rundown of some of the most notable.
Despite his stated policy of pointing and laughing at archaeologists, the Doctor does seem to spend a lot of time with them. If I had to guess, it's probably because nothing beats an archaeologist when you need to accidentally release an ancient evil. There's Professor Parry and his assistant Viner from the Patrick Troughton classic The Tomb of the Cybermen – I think you can guess which bunch of monsters they awaken (hint: it's not the Daleks). But nobody beats Marcus Scarman in Pyramids of Mars when it comes to unleashing evil; he lasts for maybe thirty seconds of episode one before the all-powerful alien Sutekh murders and possesses him.
The new series has only introduced one archaeologist, but Professor River Song is fairly important, what with her being the Doctor's wife and all (or not…I'm still not completely clear on that point). Still, she's not the first such scientist to play a major role in the Doctor's life – that honor goes to Professor Bernice "Benny" Summerfield, a hard-drinking, wise-cracking archaeologist from the 26th century. Originally created by new series scribe Paul Cornell in his novel Love and War, she both accompanied the seventh Doctor and had her own adventures in a horde of novels and audios.
Jean-Luc Picard was a huge archaeology buff, studying under the preeminent archaeologist of the 24th century, Richard Galen. He was even entrusted with completing Galen's final project, which revealed…well, I think I've dealt with that before. Picard also romanced the ethically dubious Vash, who was really more of a looter with a diploma than anything else.
Captain Kirk, on the other hand, showed no particular interest in the field. It probably didn't help that every archaeologist he ever encountered was a crazed degenerate with woman issues, whether it was Robert Crater in "The Man Trap" or Roger Korby in "What are Little Girls Made of?" It's almost as though the Federation's apparent policy of stranding one or two people on an uninhabited planet for years at a time to dig through the remains of a dead civilization was somehow flawed.
Want to become a superhero without all the hassle of locking yourself inside a nuclear reactor? Archaeology might just be the career for you! It's actually unclear whether there are any ancient idols in the DC Universe that won't give you superpowers. There's Carter Hall, who upon touching a stone knife remembered his past life as Prince Khufu and so becomes Hawkman. Rex Mason became Metamorpho when he was exposed to the radioactive Orb of Ra. The Silver Age Blue Beetle*, Dan Garrett, discovered the mystical scarab that gave him his powers during an excavation in Egypt. Adventurer Adam Strange was engaged in some archaeological work when the Zeta Beam transported him to the planet Rann. Sven Nelson died shortly after uncovering the Tomb of Nabu, but his son Kent would be trained by Nabu's spirit to become Doctor Fate. Oh, and the Tim "Robin" Drake's dad Jack was an archaeologist as well, but he somehow managed to never get any superpowers out of the deal.
*OK, technically a Charlton, not DC, character. But you get the idea.
Revelation Space, by Alastair Reynolds
In his 2000 novel, Reynolds follows Daniel Sylveste as his excavations on the planet Resurgam reveal newfound details about the long-dead Amarantin civilization. From this starting point, Reynolds weaves a tale of cyborgs, assassins, cosmic mysteries, and antimatter implants, all of which sounds pretty awesome. It's almost enough for me to forgive him for not knowing how to spell "Alasdair." Almost.
Archaeology forms a pretty big part of my second favorite Asimov book, the criminally underrated Pebble in the Sky. The Sirius-born Bel Arvadan comes to the primitive backwater known as Earth in the hopes of evaluating the local claims that humanity originated there. Naturally, he gets a bit distracted by a plot to wipe out all of humanity and never does get round to doing any excavating. Which is why Foundation, set millennia later, finds the foppish Lord Dorwin blathering on about some very promising leads regarding humanity's origins recently discovered in the Arcturus system. For obvious reasons, this line of inquiry doesn't pan out, and shortly thereafter galactic civilization pretty much collapses, which I'm guessing led to some serious budget crunches in a galaxy's worth of archaeology departments.
Ian McShane took some valuable time out from being a total badass to play Dr. Robert Bryson in the B5 television movie The River of Souls. Dr. Bryson brings an orb on board Babylon 5 that apparently contains a billion tortured souls. For some reason, the orb holds the secret to immortality. Either way, this is a serious enough situation that Martin Sheen shows up as a Soul Hunter to demand the orb be returned to him. This eventually happens, but not before Dr. Bryson and the billion souls team up for some serious havoc-wreaking.
"Omnilingual", by H. Beam Piper
This 1957 short story centers on the efforts of an archaeological team to decipher the language of an ancient Martian civilization, a task that at first seems all but impossible. They eventually figure out a road to decipherment with the discovery of some linguistic common ground: the periodic table of elements.
Saga of Seven Suns, by Kevin Anderson
The husband-and-wife xenoarchaeological team of Louis and Margaret Colicos accidentally set off Anderson's seven-book battle royale of elemental forces when they discover ancient technology that can turn gas planets into stars. This is great news for lovers of solar energy, but bad news for the super-intelligent, all-powerful aliens that live on gas planets (it's also bad news for people who don't want to be wiped out by super-intelligent, all-powerful aliens). Not the greatest advertisement for archaeology I've ever heard, really.
I'm fairly sure we've yet to see any actual archaeologists on Futurama. If I had to guess, they're probably hiding out of shame at the general terribleness of their work.
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Speaking of shame, the wonderfully, horribly Canadian MST3K entry The Final Sacrifice probably involved archaeology. The film isn't really coherent enough for me to speak with certainty, but I believe the father of hero person with the most lines Troy McGreggor got killed by an evil cult because he was investigating the ancient Ziox civilization. Although, on second thought, I think Crow and Servo clearly established Troy's father was really Miami Dolphins great Larry Csonka, who is not generally considered an archaeologist. Not yet, anyway.
There are plenty more, of course. Who are some of the biggest ones I missed?