• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment

Raiders of the Lost Park

Bill Radke

Full Episode Audio
Larger view
Excavating in Chicago
(Rebecca Graff)
Enlarge This Image

Indiana Jones has taught the world what it takes to be an archaeologist. First and foremost, always carry a bullwhip. Avoid Nazis at all costs, and whenever possible, leave your family at home.

Rebecca Graff is an archaeologist at the University of Chicago. Her brand of archeology is a little closer to home, a little tamer and, well, much more realistic. She and a team of 20 undergraduates are digging up Chicago's Jackson Park to find artifacts from the World's Fair of 1893. We caught up with her on-site:

Bill Radke: The new Indiana Jones movie opens wide this weekend -- how much have you seen?

Rebecca Graff: Oh, I've seen all of it!



And that's exactly what being an archaeologist is like, right?

Definitely. Yeah, exactly... no. We keep joking that we haven't found a crystal skull, and we really don't expect to.

Where are you right now? What can you see?

Well, I'm actually sitting right by the Museum of Science and Industry. It has a connection to the fair because it used to be the Fine Arts Palace of the World's Columbian Exposition and it was rebuilt from those plans in the '20s to become the Museum of Science and Industry.

Why are you working on the South Side of Chicago, Rebecca, instead of the Peruvian jungle?

I think that Chicago has so much interesting stories to tell. And that I hope that this project will make people even more interested in what we can talk about, in terms of Chicago, in terms of the growth and development of American cities, in terms of America's industrial past and present, and do some more projects.

What are you hoping to find? What would be your Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant of this excavation?

Well, I guess we don't really have a Holy Grail, but we joke that one of the fathers of anthropology was actually here -- the father of American anthropology, Franz Boaz -- he came to here to put an exhibit together that actually became the founding collections of the Field Museum. And we keep joking that it would be really fun if we found Franz Boas' pocket watch.

What's the most fascinating artifact that you've found?

If I had to talk about something that's very pretty or aesthetically pleasing, I do like the mineral water bottles. They're very pale, aqua glass. A lot of them have this blob top -- they don't have the same sort of bottle caps that we have now. That wasn't the technology being used. You know, people still drink mineral water and think there are certain health benefits associated, and there's certain status associated with drinking it. And it's interesting to think about these consumer practices in America that are still with us today that maybe started 100 or more years ago.

And when you're holding that bottle, what's going through your mind?

Well, I have sort of a personal connection to the fair that I found out about after I had already started working on this project... Which was that my great-grandfather had gotten a job in 1892 as a laborer on the fair, digging ditches on the midway. It was just very interesting to think that my family was here at the same time, in some senses, doing similar jobs as far as actually moving dirt.

Are the Nazis trying to stop you?

No, I think the Canada geese are probably our biggest problem right now. They're interested in what we're doing and we're trying to not bother them.

What is being an archaeologist really like?

I don't think it's quite as, maybe as sexy as the Indiana Jones part, because you're not out in the field all the time. So much of the research takes place before and after the fieldwork. A lot of it is reading and writing and researching both before and after, so I don't think Indiana did that that much.

He had a very flexible job, Indiana Jones.

Yes, he certainly did -- he got to travel a lot, too.

Yeah, he was on sabbatical pretty much all the time.

His teaching load was much lighter than it seems to be for a lot of academic archaeologists here.

Well Rebecca, good luck avoiding rolling boulders and any other problems. I hope your face doesn't melt off. Thanks for joining us and good luck with the rest of your excavation.

Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • Post a Comment: Please be civil, brief and relevant.

    Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. All comments are moderated. Weekend America reserves the right to edit any comments on this site and to read them on the air if they are extra-interesting. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting.

      Form is no longer active


    You must be 13 or over to submit information to American Public Media. The information entered into this form will not be used to send unsolicited email and will not be sold to a third party. For more information see Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Download Weekend America

Weekend Weather

From the January 31 broadcast

Support American Public Media with your Amazon.com purchases
Search Amazon.com:
 ©2015 American Public Media