Denfeld News

June 5, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Science Foundation compares UMD prof to Indiana Jones
By Jana Hollingsworth

Although he’s been compared to Indiana Jones, George “Rip” Rapp has never seen any of the movies.

During his long career, Rapp, professor emeritus of geoarchaeology at the University of Minnesota Duluth, has discovered two lost cities in China and the shoreline of legendary Troy in northwestern Turkey.

His work was included recently in a publication by the National Science Foundation, which compares the work of archaeologists — which Rapp says he’s not; he’s a geochemist — to the kind of archaeology shown in the four Indiana Jones films.

Rapp has dealt with site robbers in Greece and Israel, an experience he shares with Indiana Jones. He said artifacts are not to be kept but turned over to the country in which they are found, unlike in the movies.

“A dealer once called me and asked me to authenticate Chinese artifacts,” Rapp said. “I yelled at him: No. 1, I am not an archaeologist and No. 2, I hope he goes to jail,” he said.

The purpose of archaeology is not to find artifacts, but to focus more on history.

“Even Indiana will tell you this: It’s not a search for the truth, it’s a search for facts,” said Howard Mooers, a UMD professor and head of its geological sciences department. “You study a site, study artifacts, the geometry of the houses, whatever the layout was. From that you interpret culture and how it interacted with … the environment.”

In an Indiana Jones movie, you’re just interested in the artifact, he said, “whether it be Coronado’s Cross, the Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail.”

Rapp, 77, is in the process of writing four books on his work, adding to his published collection of 16 or 17 — he doesn’t remember exactly how many. He’s traveled abroad nearly 90 times, and for years spent summer and fall quarters in the Mediterranean and China working on projects and teaching during the winter and spring. His use of satellite imagery, geophysics and core drilling were unique to archaeology and helped him make his famous discoveries. The geological techniques have since been adopted by many archaeologists.

The discoveries of the Chinese City of Song in 1994 and that of the ancient Shang Dynasty capital of Huanbei in 1997 didn’t excite Rapp.

“I didn’t know much about the city except that we found it. I just move on to the next one,” he said. “It’s an awful lot of fun, though, and it’s scientifically interesting.”

The Chinese government was excited, having searched 40 years for the City of Song, about 3,000 years old. The second discovery was made on the first day of searching, using the geological drilling technique.

Rapp’s and University of Delaware professor John Craft’s work in the Mediterranean found that a harbor area once sat outside the city of Troy, as opposed to what was believed to be the Trojan War battlefield, and corresponded with what was written in Homer’s Iliad, Rapp said.

By drilling there, they determined there was a yard or two of water during that time.

“If there were chariot battles there, the chariots must have been on pontoons,” he said.

As for the importance of his work, Rapp says it’s just what he does.

“How important the work is in terms of scholarship or the world, that’s for other people to determine,” he said.

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