UMD Regents Professor Emeritus of Geoarchaeology, George "Rip" Rapp, is a real life Indiana Jones. His life's work compares in many ways to the swashbuckling hero of the latest hit movie "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," starring Harrison Ford.
Professor Rapp is also one of seven international archaeologists, highlighted in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) new special on-line report, "Archaeology from Reel to Real," launched last week.
The NSF report features in-depth articles on the careers of the seven accomplished international NSF-funded archaeologists, who work as far afield as the Aleutians and Egypt, China and Mexico-or as close as Mississippi. The articles describe the careers of these scientists, comparing their work with the adventures of Hollywood's fictional archaeologist Indiana Jones. While no one expects that the storied Indiana Jones, the hero of four far-flung tales of adventure, to resemble real scientists - archaeologists concede that parallels do exist.
The NSF article, spotlighting UMD Professor Rapp's vast career, is titled "They are Digging in Wrong Place." The feature describes the key discoveries of Professor Rapp, whose work includes thirty-seven years of major geoarchaeological and archaeological excavation and survey around the world.
The NSF article (published May 21) comments ----
"Even with a decade on the sixties-ish actor who plays archaeologist Henry "Indiana" Jones - George "Rip" Rapp easily gives his fictional counterpart a run for his money in terms of professional accomplishments, having discovered not one, but two, "lost cities" in China; located the shoreline of ancient Troy; and excavated dinosaur fossils alongside the famous paleontologist Jack Horner in Montana."
Using satellite data and ground-based geophysics (along with his unique coring technique) Rapp and his colleague, Zhichun Jing, discovered China's most famous lost city, "Great City Song" (pronounced "Soon") in 1992. The city was the capital of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty and is featured prominently in China's ancient literature. Rapp and Zhichun also discovered the rampart that surrounded another lost city in China, (now known as Huanbei Shang City).
According to Professor Rapp, finding a lost city is not the fruits of hours spent learning obscure languages or deciphering ancient codes, but rather from applying his techniques (a blend of modern technology and manual labor) to solving a geological challenge. All of his professional successes, Rapp is quick to point out, are attributable to nothing more than a good grasp of geology and the willingness to indulge in some backbreaking physical labor.
UMD's "Rip" Rapp has demonstrated that, just like Indiana Jones, real-life archeologists do discover "lost cities." They also try to figure out what happened to "vanished civilizations" and whether the causes of their collapse may have relevance to contemporary problems.
Today's archeologists seek rare and precious artifacts that tell important stories about the past. These artifacts might be minute snails or the scrapings of ancient teeth--and not golden idols. However, these scientists relate well to Native peoples, treating them with respect and as partners in learning about the past—not like the Hollywood tales of weapons. And certainly--as is jokingly noted in the latest Indiana Jones adventure--teaching is an important part of what they do.
A real-life professor, Rapp has had a very distinguished career exploring the world and teaching in the UMD Department of Geological Sciences. His special interests include Archaeological Geology, Archaeological Geology of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Trace element fingerprinting of artifacts, and Shang archaeology of China. He is currently working on four books which are in various stages of preparation.
The NSF special report can be found at: