Indiana Jones-inspired lecture series features UAlberta archeologists

Everyone today associates vampires with something like the Twilight version, the pop-culture vampire. But in older folklore, vampires were an entirely different breed altogether.
Sandra Garvie-Lok

Anthropology professor kicks off lecture series at Telus World of Science with an eerie tale of a vampire ritual.


(Edmonton) Indiana Jones is synonymous with archeology for just about anyone who’s seen the rip-roaring adventure movies. Featuring the fictional archeologist and explorer Henry "Indiana" Jones, the films take viewers to exotic locations—like Peru in Raiders of the Lost Ark—where Jones inevitably embarks on a search for some kind of ancient relic.

That’s usually where any similarity to the life of the average archeologist ends, and the rope-swinging, boulder-dodging hijinks begin.

“Indiana Jones is a lot of fun, but it’s a movie impression of archeology,” says Sandra Garvie-Lok, a professor and bio-archeologist in the U of A's Department of Anthropology.

To bring Edmontonians a series of stories from real-life, local archeologists, Telus World of Science Edmonton has partnered with the Strathcona Archaeological Society for a lecture series called Diggin' Up the Past. The series—which runs from Oct. 24 to Feb. 27 in conjunction with the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit—boasts all of the fascinating historical and archeological elements of the Indiana Jones franchise. But don’t expect any choreographed fight scenes.

“The whole idea is to let people know there are real archeologists in their community doing really cool things,” says Garvie-Lok, the first of five professors from the Faculty of Arts who will speak in the series. She’s set to deliver a spooky talk on an eerie grave she investigated in Mytilene, Greece, when she was still a graduate student.

“I studied osteology, which means I examine human bones from archeological sites,” says Garvie-Lok. “I was asked to study a particular grave in the cemetery [pictured below] because there was evidence of vampire ritual.”


For most, the word "vampire" conjures up images of a pale, cloaked figure sporting a pair of pearly fangs. But in this case, Garvie-Lok is talking about a more traditional variety.

“Everyone today associates vampires with something like the Twilight version–the pop-culture vampire,” she says. “But in older folklore, vampires were an entirely different breed altogether.”

In the 19th century, a vampire was thought to be a corpse, possessed by a demon and looking more like a zombie than today’s handsome, glittering version. As legend goes, they could rise from their graves, attack villages, bring bad luck to inhabitants or cause mischief much like a poltergeist.


But unlike the pop-culture treatment vampires get today, it was all taken very seriously, says Garvie-Lok.

“If there was bad luck or illness, people would begin to dig up graves—searching for vampires,” explains Garvie-Lok. “Then they would take measures to ensure the vampire couldn’t escape his grave.”

In the case of the Hileke burial, these measures were evident in three iron stakes found inside the coffin. Garvie-Lok believes one stake may have been laid across the corpse's throat, another likely penetrated the navel and a third appeared to be weighing down the legs.

“The stake through the heart is one thing Hollywood gets right, though it was often through the heart, stomach and chest,” she notes.

She’ll delve more deeply into the creepy case during her lecture at Telus World of Science Oct. 30. The lecture is on a special date to accommodate Halloween the following night, but the rest of the speakers are scheduled for Friday evenings at 7 p.m in the Margaret Zeidler Star Theatre.

The next U of A professor up in the series is Rob Losey, who will speak on his work in dog archeology Nov. 7. In his lecture, titled "The Archaeology of Dog Domestication," he will present his research on the domestication of dogs, drawing on a current archeological project based at the U of A.

Kisha Supernant and Katie Bittner from the Department of Anthropology and Margaret Haagsma from the Department of History and Classics will also give presentations on their work.