Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Archaeology of Scooby Doo

Funny what you find yourself watching at 5am when you can't sleep.

Reruns of Scooby Doo (the popular 1960s / 70s / 80s / 90s / 00s / 10s adventure featuring an animated canine and his ever-haunted human chums) seems to be a popular choice at present for the Late Night TV channel schedulers (probably expecting a mass of insomniac children).

Collapsing before the altar of Scoob, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne, I was pleased (as I always am) to see our old friend the "Stock Archaeologist" rear his (and her) recognisable and utterly unmistakeable head(s).

I could tell straight away the that we were in the presence of pop culture bone-kickers: he (Professor Stonehack - did he possess a first name?) was resplendent in Khaki field gear, fedora, overtly masculine facial hair and square jaw

whilst she (Elina Stonehack) was also dressed in Khaki, but with a red scarf (and semi-demented stare).

Both wielded pick-axes, shovels and (rather bizarrely) what appeared to be yard brooms. Both were undoubtedly 'bad-hats'.

And so it proved to be (SPOILER ALERT), the professor dressing up as 'the Ghost of King Katazuma', Elina preferring the outfit of 'the Aztec Statue Monster', in order to scare people away from the reality of their nefarious scam: the pocketing of an ancient Aztec treasure.

I wondered, as one does at such times, whether other archaeologists had appeared in Scooby Doo, and whether the stereotype had ever shifted in the programmes’ 40 year plus history. Here the resource tool SCOOBYPEDIA (what did we do before the internet?) proved invaluable.

It would appear that, since 1969, only two types of archaeologist have appeared in this particular slice of pop culture. Unsurprisingly, given what we've already discussed in the past (and identified as the medical condition of  'Clarke Kent Syndrome'), these two extremes were: A) the seedy (nerdy), spectacle-wearing academic, ill at ease with both the real world and the meddling kids that inhabit it (cue Dr Henry Walton Jones Jnr); and B), the rugged, no-holds barred, all-guns blazing field explorer, also ill-at ease with the real world but more likely to gun down any meddling kids that they meet along the way (cue Indiana Jones).

Here, for example, is an example from type A, the ever-so-slightly seedy and totally obsessed academic: Professor Jameson Hyde White (archaeologist from the episode What a Night for a Knight)

Hyde White was (SPOILER ALERT) captured by Mr. Wickles in a Black Knight costume but was later found tied up and gagged after Mr. Wickles was arrested for covering up a series of forged paintings, having stolen and kept the originals, which the professor, as an archaeologist, would apparently have noticed ( was he 'archaeologist' of in any case?). 

Here, from the episode The Mummy of Ankha, is 'The Professor' (so dull that he doesn't even possess a name)

who works in the Department of Archaeology (of an unidentified American University) who, whilst setting up an Egyptian mummy for a display, was kidnapped (SPOILER ALERT) by the reanimated mummy

and then later found tied up, gagged, and stuffed in a sack.

Only of course the Mummy wasn't real, but was native Egyptian academic Dr Najib in disguise,

all of which raises uncomfortable issues surrounding the acquisition of Egyptian artefacts by Western / colonial powers and the repatriation of cultural remains - indeed who is the REAL villain here, the professor (colonial looter) or Dr Najib (indigenous heritage officer?). According to the storyline, the good / bad (delete as applicable) Dr Najib wanted an Egyptian coin that could release a diamond hidden within one of the artefacts on display in the university museum. Somehow dressing up and kidnapping people, such as the good / bad professor (delete as applicable), and then making a series of detailed and highly realistic stone copies of the kidnaped seemed, to Dr Najib at least, a sensible way of obtaining said coin whilst simultaneously throwing people off the scent.

It didn't work.

Here's another seedy archaeo-acadmic, Professor Brixton 

working on the excavation of the underground city of Byzantius in Turkey (no, me neither), hence his unconvincing efforts to don the clothing and attitude of a real field archaeologist. Whilst working at Byzantius, Brixton and his workers are menaced by a green-eyed (one-eyed) Tar Monster, in reality (SPOILER ALERT) Mr Stoner in disguise (who would have guessed?).

Coming a bit more up to date, Scooby Doo also has prime examples of the Type B pop culture archaeologist, the thrill-seeking, egotistical adventurer, obsessed with the importance of their own discoveries (and their own personal fame): in this case represented by Lysander Demas

and Susie Smythe.

Susie, it transpired (SPOILER ALERT) secretly dressed up as a Centaur because she wanted Atlantis to be her discovery and not that of Demas (not quite sure, in the cold light of day, how that made sense to poor Susie...possibly her brain was addled after spending too much time filling in context sheets).

Thinking about these particular examples taken from the world of pop culture archaeology, I realise that my own on site research / digging technique is particularly ghoul-free. Perhaps, next time I find an Iron Age storage pit or a Roman ditch, instead of half-sectioning the feature then drawing, photographing and otherwise recording it, I'm going to scare people away by hiding beneath a fluorescent green sheet, swathing myself in bandages and hopping about on one leg screaming ‘Arggg Argg’ at passers-by, making great claims to be the reanimated Pot Sherd Phantom of the Forbidden Purple Test Pit.

Who knows, against all the evidence provided in Scooby Doo, I might just get away with it....


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Oh for a better keyboard....

    Try as I might, I cannot get past the image of you leading a cohort of level C students down the corridors of a building you are very familiar with, followed closely by a slightly miffed mummy, arms outstretched in full uuurhg.

    Benny Hill music would be appropriate, but for some reason I've gone with The Monkees.

    I wonder who the mummy is,.....

    1. This happens to me every morning...the mummy is revealed to be an English Heritage Inspector trying out a new initiative to scare visitors away from Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

  3. Funny you should mention English Heritage scaring people away from scheduled ancient monuments, I had exactly that experience taking photos of Roman site at close to sunset from the public road. The angry raving lady with English Heritage on her shirt couldn't believe that anyone taking photographs could possibly have an interest in archaeology, besides which there was no archaeology there... and my presence with a camera was invading her and her children's privacy!

    If I had seen a monster/ghost too I'd have invited the Scooby Doo gang to investigate.

    1. An unfortunate experience indeed! Photos taken from a public road, as you note, cannot (as I understand it) be an invasion of privacy though (now, if you'd been in her garden / land / front room taking photos, that would be a different matter) - people do get 'funny' about what can and cannot be captured photographically...especially when it comes to archaeology (as I have discovered as well).