Indiana Jones is a hero to boys and men alike. While George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have always maintained that he was inspired by serial action heroes of the 1930s and 1940s, others have claimed he has other, real-life inspirations. If nothing else, the men on this list inspired the aforementioned heroes, with their daring adventures into uncharted lands searching for ruins of lost cities and artifacts from ancient civilizations.
1. Giovanni Battista Belzoni: Giovanni Battista Belzoni was an Italian circus strongman and adventurer, also known as “The Great Belzoni.” He was the first man—at least the first in several thousand years—to make his way into the second pyramid at Giza. Among the treasured he procured was a seven-ton bust of Ramses II, which he scored for Great Britain.
2. Roy Chapman Andrews: Roy Chapman Andrews is the figure perhaps most associated with Indiana Jones, though there’s no evidence Lucas or Spielberg knew who he was. One of the first honorary Boy Scouts, Andrews spent a lot of time fighting brigands in Mongolia, digging up dinosaur bones and sailing around the Arctic. He somehow died peacefully of heart failure in a California hospital.
3. Hiram Bingham III: Much like Henry Jones, Jr., Hiram Bingham III was a scholar and an adventurer. Despite no formal archaeological training, he was a professor at Yale University. He unearthed the Incan city Machu Picchu and later became the U.S. Senator from Connecticut. His book, Lost City of the Incas was a bestseller. He was also an early aviator who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
4. James Henry Breasted: While he doesn’t have quite the reputation as a swashbuckler that others on our list have, this is basically the guy who brought the study of the ancient Middle East to the United States. He was the first American to receive a Ph.D. in Egyptology and even coined the phrase “Fertile Crescent.” He secured a number of treasures for American museums, including the mummy of Meresamun, an Egyptian temple singer.
5. Frederick Russell Burnham: Dig this: Frederick Russell Burnham didn’t just (possibly) inspire Indiana Jones. He also inspired a character who inspired Indiana Jones, namely Allan Quatermain. Born on a Dakota Sioux reservation, he fought for both the American and the British Army before becoming the inspiration for the Boy Scouts. Then former President Teddy Roosevelt personally selected him to raise recruits for a volunteer army during World War I.
6. Percy Fawcett: Lieutenant Colonel Percival Harrison Fawcett died while on an expedition to find the remains of the probably legendary El Dorado, which he called “Z.” No one is quite sure how he died or even when he died, with some rumors saying he forgot his identity and became the chief of a cannibal tribe. His remains have never been conclusively identified and while he might have been offed by a hostile tribe of natives, he also might have gotten eaten by a jaguar or succumbed to disease or fallen off a cliff.
7. Farish Jenkins: Here’s an example of life imitating art imitating life. Farish Jenkins possibly inspired Indiana Jones but was definitely inspired by him. A United States Marine Corps captain, he once took a selfie with a charging black rhino. A bit of a character, Jenkins would walk around his class with a peg leg and dress up like Indiana Jones while on expeditions. Among other achievements, he did extensive research on how fish evolved to have legs.
8. E. Lawrence: As a polymath with a taste for distinctive headwear, T.E. Lawrence is almost too obvious a choice to make this list. He’s most famous for his stint as “Lawrence of Arabia,” where he was part of the leadership of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire. He trained himself to jump on top of a horse to impress his Arab companions. Despite his reputation as a bit of a sexual libertine, there’s significant evidence that Lawrence never experienced sex, dying a virgin.
9. William Montgomery McGovern: Fans familiar with The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles have no doubt at least once found themselves frustrated by Jones’ seeming knack for being at every historical turning point, ready to deploy the perfect language. Well, William Montgomery McGovern was that guy. His globetrotting began at the age of six weeks. He once went to Mexico just to see a revolution. Before the age of 30 he had explored uncharted Himalyan landscapes, pioneered the Amazon Basin and studied at Oxford. He spoke 12 languages and did some time as a Buddhist priest in Japan.
10. Vendyl Jones: Last name “Jones?” Check. Hunted for the Ark of the Covenant? Check. Bad ass brown fedora? Check. In the past, Vendyl Jones has claimed to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones and other times he hasn’t. To call Jones an eccentric is to put it mildly. He believed that if he found the Ark of the Covenant it would bring peace to the Middle East. He even consulted with Kabalistic rabbis who gave him a precise date he would find it by—August 14, 2005.