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The Real-Life
Indiana Jones Is a Lesbian

The Real-Life
Indiana Jones Is a Lesbian


With Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in theaters now, Smithsonian anthropologist Dr. Jane MacLaren Walsh, a crystal-skull expert and a lesbian, is getting international attention. Michael Gardner asked her about the skulls, the film, and her role in it all

Nineteen years after Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones is back in the highly anticipated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in theaters now. Trademark fedora intact, Harrison Ford once again toplines as the adventurous archaeologist, this time on the hunt for the Crystal Skull of Akator, a legendary skull believed to hold the power of world domination for whoever can unlock its secrets.

In the real world, Indy's altar ego may well be Dr. Jane MacLaren Walsh, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, whose research focus is--yes!--crystal skulls. The objects have attracted a growing legion of fans over the years--from New Age devotees to psychics--who say the skulls have supernatural healing powers. But Walsh's work has shown that no crystal skull has ever been excavated from a documented archaeological site. Still, despite their inauthenticity, skulls of all sizes, usually made from rock crystal, have been displayed as ancient artifacts in museums and private collections worldwide.

Everyone wants to talk to Walsh these days, given her real-life connection to a major summer blockbuster (The Times of London and Der Spiegel are two of her recent suitors). But The Advocate had a special reason to talk: Walsh is gay, and has lived with her partner for more than two decades in Washington, D.C. From her office there, she recently spoke to Michael Gardner about her passion for those crazy crystal artifacts and, of course, everything Indy.

The Advocate: Thanks to nothing more than a movie title, what's it been like to get all this attention for your work?

Walsh: Completely crazy. Totally unexpected. As you can imagine, it's not something that normally happens to me. In my regular work, people get my email and send me photographs of objects they'd like me to inspect, mostly pictures of pre-Columbian artifacts -- or what they hope are pre-Columbian artifacts. It's amazing how many fakes are around.

Did the creators know about you or consult with you on the film?

No, and they wouldn't have. The Indiana Jones movies are great fun and wild entertainment. They are fantasies. And that's not what I do.

People have been peppering you with questions pertaining to the movie. What's most surprised you?

They expect me to have insider knowledge of the film and the plot. But unfortunately, I don't. All of the writing I've done about skulls has been in terms of them being fakes. And crystal skulls are relatively modern fakes. I originally wrote about this in Archaeology magazine, and since the 1970s the interest in skulls has really exploded.

Why is that?

My own feeling is that we are fascinated with our own mortality and these skulls are a representation of us and our mortality. Since the Renaissance, skulls have often been depicted in paintings to reflect impermanence and the fragility of life. One example of this is that you often see priests contemplating skulls. In addition, they are made of these materials, rock and crystal, that Europeans find very valuable.

How did you become an expert on crystal skulls in the first place?

It happened essentially because someone sent us one in the mail, an anonymous, unsolicited package. I had been doing some archaeological collections work here and I had just started doing research on crystal skulls. I grew up in Mexico, did my BA and MA there, and crystal skulls were objects I had never seen in any collection of artifacts that had ever been excavated from a site. That raised a flag early on in my research, but when we received this skull, it opened up an entirely new avenue of research for me.

Do you have any skulls, real or fake, in your own personal collection?

[Laughs] Yes, actually I do. My friends are always giving them to me. Mostly I keep them in the office. A few years ago I was in Mexico and I saw a bunch of these crystal skulls of very small size--they were about a half inch high--I saw them and I decided to buy them from a thieves market and they turned out to be glass. Various people have given me ones they bought on eBay and they are more modern carvings. About two to three weeks ago, I was in Mexico with a film crew--another network along with the BBC are putting a documentary together on this research. While we were there, I found this stone-carving workshop and they were selling a version of crystal skulls. So I bought one for myself--partially for research.

Will you see the movie?

Oh, sure, I'll see it. I haven't been invited to any pre-screening or anything. But I will see it and I'm interested in what their crystal skulls look like. When all of this interest started in relation to the film, somebody sent me a poster with Indiana Jones in the foreground and what appears to be an image of a crystal skull in the background. It looks alien. Our philosophy at the Smithsonian is to increase and diffuse knowledge. That's what I'm trying to do.

Are you a fan of the other Indiana Jones films?

I like the first one best, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Oddly enough, there is golden figure that Indy grabs at the start of the opening sequence that sets off a series of booby traps that end with a huge boulder nearly crushing him. That golden figure is an image of a goddess that's based on a supposed pre-Columbian Aztec piece. The piece is in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington and I've studied it at length. It's a nineteenth-century fake. That's a theme of these films: Indy goes after a lot of a fakes.

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