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Indiana Jones and the Search for Authenticity

Disney's official replica idol from Raiders sparks replica fakery and debate over which fake is the best fake of the real fake. Keeping up?

Matthew JC. Powell
Matthew JC. Powell
2 min read
Indiana Jones and the Search for Authenticity

There's a bit of a brouhaha going on among the online Indiana Jones fan community at the moment.

In June, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Disney released a limited-edition licensed prop replica of the golden fertility idol seen near the beginning of the film. This is actually a bit of a big deal — unlike LucasFilm stablemate Star Wars, Indiana Jones has not spawned much official merchandise at all over the years, and fans who were jonesing (sorry) for replicas and the like have largely been left to create their own cottage industry. Hats, jackets, whips and idols have been sold through forums like therpf.com and Club Obi-Wan — a fan forum connected to IndyGear.com.

Predictably, the Disney idol sold out within minutes, and since then hundreds of them have been put up for sale on eBay and other sites. Many of the ads appear to be for fairly obvious knock-offs, which has sparked much discussion about how to spot an "authentic" Disney prop replica — as opposed to a replica of said replica.

As if that weren't silly enough, a number of old-school fans (from the pre-Disney days) have been going on about the olden times — when there was no such thing as a licensed replica, and you had to know how to spot a good replica among the many unlicensed variants around.

Some of those idols were modelled according to what could be gleaned from watching the movie frame by frame on VHS, and they looked it. Others were informed by information gleaned from careful study of the LucasFilm archives and tidbits that popped up in interviews.

Some of them were so good that their makers earned a reputation for quality. One such — a member of the RPF forum who went by the name of "Gobler" — claimed to have obtained a cast of the "Hero" idol seen in the movie, and struck a very few copies based on it. Gobler's idols are considered the holy grail (yeah, wrong movie, sorry) of idol replicas. Naturally, rip-offs have sprouted up trading on those makers' names — making it even more challenging to know if you're getting a genuine authentic replica or … not.

And of course, many critics of the Disney replica say that it's not actually as close to the prop seen in the movie as some of the unlicensed ones.

There is a great irony in all of this. There were in fact two props made for the movie. The "Hero" prop (seen in the temple) has brown glass eyes, while the "Stunt" prop (the one that gets thrown around and surrendered to Belloq) has gold-painted eyes.

Neither, it bears saying, is an actual Chachapoyan artefact.

Both were copied loosely from a purported pre-Columbian fertility idol representing the Aztec goddess Tlazolteotl, which is held in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington DC.

That original idol has itself been proven to be a fake — made some time in the 19th century.

It's almost as if Indiana Jones himself were fictional.

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Matthew JC. Powell Twitter

Matthew JC. Powell is a writer and adventure seeker, living life in pursuit of fortune and glory. Neither has yet eventuated.


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