Sunday, November 30, 2014

Keeping Up with the Jones (Exhibition)

No one was in peak condition or excitement, but with the frenzy of December so imminent, we decided to spend Saturday morning at the Telus World of Science enjoying the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit.

Put on by the same folks who produced the Star Wars Identities exhibit about a year ago, the Indy tour takes a similar edutainment focus, mixing props, costumes and storyboards from the four movies along with a tremendous assortment of exhibits from the renowned Penn Museum.

Each visitor is given a tablet and headphones, but in addition to serving as a selectable audio guide (by entering each exhibit's three digit number), some exhibits also have a secondary set of visuals that play on the tablet, comparing the mythology of the movies with real history and archaeology.  For instance, discovering a bit more about the historical Nurhachi, founding father of the Chin dynasty, as well as the funerary rites of ancient China, gives the bombastic opening scene of Temple of Doom even more heft.

Likewise, keying in the entry for the headpiece to the Staff of Ra explains how appropriate it is that this Egyptian sun deity is the key element to finding the Well of Souls in Raiders.

Getting insights into the real world of archaeology is a real treat too; I had no idea that Mayan 'toothache' glyphs only became translatable in the last twenty years, and that we now know how to pronounce words not heard in over a millennium.

Likewise, I remember being fascinated by the Nazca lines as a child, and their appearance in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is less interesting to me than the possibility that they were maps linked to temples and water sources in an arid land.

Real historical and anthropological artifacts abound, from Nazca pottery to drinking vessels and jewelry from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, possible birthplace of the biblical Abraham.

You are even permitted to photograph these ancient treasures; they only ask that you not use your flash.  Our new point-and-shoot did a decent job in most cases, which was good, since there was no program cataloging the exhibits like there was at the Star Wars event.

Learning about recent excavations, like the necropolis of Sitio Conte in Panama, was just as fascinating, and a chance to see the craftsmanship of these 'primitive' societies is a rare privilege. Look at the level of detail in this golden bat, not much more than an inch across:

From the same site, the creatures depicted in this shining bracers are only described as having fangs and claws; they are not named.  Are they dragons?  Shedu?  Quetzalcouatl?  None can say.  The audio does explain, though, how these arm guards could also be used to dazzle an opponent with reflected sunlight.

Being a movie buff, however, meant I was just as enthralled to see much newer artifacts, like a sarcophagus from the Well of Souls:

The Grail Shield from The Last Crusade, and the emblems of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword:

And I would be very surprised if there will ever be a more iconic costume made of commonly available clothing than that hat, jacket, and Sam Browne belt, Take away the whip, and you still know exactly who you are dealing with!

For younger visitors, the tablet provides an excellent diversion.  Touching it to any of the ten pillars scattered throughout the exhibition will invite the holder to solve a puzzle of some kind, many of which involve placing the tablet in a specific place.  Here, Glory uses her tablet to help decipher some cuneiform script:

Each puzzle solved rewards the participant with one of nine shards needed to complete an artifact chosen at the start of the quest.  Collecting all the shards lets you see your prize displayed, along with the name you've chosen, at the end of the exhibit.
So, obviously, when I say younger, I am not necessarily talking about physical age or anything like that.  And I didn't need too much help with the puzzles.

Still, as interesting as the pottery is, I wouldn't have minded pursuing something from the movies; perhaps the Cross of Coronado, or one of the Sankara stones...

Yeah, maybe not that one though...

Fans of the movies, or of history, archaeology, anthropology, languages, archaeometry, or culture should take advantage of this great exhibit, which is in Edmonton until April.  Some things to bear in mind if you do decide to check it out:

  • Make sure you have seen all the movies before coming; spoilers abound.  We just finished watching them with the girls in November, and re-watching them (yes, even Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) certainly whet our appetites and primed our memories.
  • The very young may find some of the funereal themes a little disturbing, to say nothing of movie excerpts depicting melting faces and the like.  If you are too young for the movies, you might be too young for the exhibit, but knowing parents can also keep an eye on what videos are being shown on the tablets.
  • Tablet-guided interactive exhibits like this are not cheap; admission for a family of four will cost over $100.  However, if you have an AMA membership, you can get 10% off.  You can buy tickets online, but there doesn't seem to be nearly as much demand as there was for Star Wars: Identities, so you can avoid the 'convenience fee' by getting them at the box office.
  • We spent two hours in the exhibit, and probably could have spent more, so be prepared, and wear comfortable shoes; they could probably use some more benches.
  • We were told by the guide that scanning the pillars with our tablets would produce a tone; she didn't mention that there are actually two tones, a low one that means 'not yet', and a chime that means 'got it!'.  Scanning the tablet doesn't work nearly as well as actual contact, and slow, patient movements will be rewarded.
  • It is a timed exhibit, but going early on a weekend morning means you probably won't have too much of a crowd to contend with.  We were there at 10:00 Saturday and never felt rushed or crowded.
  • There is a special price and materials available for school field trips; I wonder if Sunday school would count?  I certainly wouldn't mind going back!

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