In his 25 years as a terrestrial and underwater archaeologist, Chris Begley has explored everything from prehistoric caves in Missouri to the legend of a lost civilization in Honduras. Along the way, he’s earned not just a Ph.D. but a reputation as “a real-life Indiana Jones.”
But on Friday, Begley downplayed the more daring aspects of his own adventures during a conversation with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. He said his field work in relatively uninhabited areas of Central America as well as other places around the world doesn’t quite live up to what’s typically portrayed on the big screen.
“The rainforest, for instance, is actually a pretty easy place to survive,” Begley said. “You’ve got plenty of food, plenty of water, it’s always warm. The kinds of things that are dangerous – poisonous snakes, for instance – are pretty much ubiquitous all over the world ... There’s often a face of danger put on this [in the movies] in order to sort of amplify the exploits of whoever’s working there.”
In town to speak at the St. Louis Science Center’s Indiana Jones-themed First Friday event, Begley added that such films have “an enduring legacy” and a big impact on perceptions of the field.
“I’m going to be talking about what [Indiana Jones] gets right, what it gets wrong, why that matters and some of the effects of those ideas,” he said.
Begley’s own career has taken him from remote jungles to caves and rivers more recently.
“Underwater archaeology has only about a 55-year history, and that of course has to do with the development of scuba-diving technology in the 1940s and such,” he said. “For an underwater archaeologist, the range of things you might look at could include shipwrecks, but it could also include environments that were formerly dry land that are now inundated.”
Begley noted that, while he has yet to explore the depths of the Mississippi River, there are “incredibly interesting and important” sites to research in Missouri during what continues to be “a great era of discovery” in the world of archaeology.
That’s particularly true when it comes to the region’s caves, he said, with “everything from caves that were used for industrial reasons under the city here to some caves in the far side of the state that have preserved foot impressions from humans and animals dating back centuries.”
What: What Do Real Archaeologists Think of Indiana Jones?
When: 8 p.m. March 2, 2018
Where: St. Louis Science Center, 5050 Oakland Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.