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Abner Ravenwood

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"Ravenwood is the real expert. Abner did the first serious work on Tanis. Collected some of its relics. It was his obsession, really. But he never found the city."
Indiana Jones on Abner Ravenwood's search for the Ark of the Covenant.[src]

Abner Ravenwood was an Egyptologist and archaeologist at the University of Chicago in the 1920s. He was a mentor of Indiana Jones, whom he taught at the university, the father of Marion Ravenwood, and posthumously grandfather to Mutt Williams. Ravenwood's lifelong obsession was to find the Ark of the Covenant.


Abner Ravenwood spent his early days assisting Flinders Petrie, helping excavate Palestine, and earned degrees in history and archaeology at Yale and Harvard.[2] He also studied anthropology under Franz Boas. At one point, while discussing anthropology with Sir Adrian Braidthwaite, he accused the British of practicing "armchair anthropology," theorizing on other cultures from the comfort of home, based on reports from braver individuals. Braidthwaite bristled at the suggestion, but later realized the accusation was largely correct. Ravenwood's accusation was partially the impetus for Braidthwaite's 1910 expedition into Africa.[3]

At some point in his career, Ravenwood explored Malekula, an island in the Pacific Ocean, where he lost an Ebony Dove after being chased off by the island's inhabitants.[4]

In March 1909, Ravenwood's daughter Marion was born.[1]

Later, in June, Abner for the first time met the young boy Henry Jones Jr, later known as Indiana Jones, in Jerusalem. Jones learned that Ravenwood owned a map showing the potential resting place of the Ark of the Covenant under the Temple Mount. Ravenwood later explained that he believed the Ark was buried somewhere else, and that one day a real archaeologist would find it.[5]

By the 1920s, Ravenwood was a longtime professor of archaeology at the University of Chicago. Among his students were Harold Oxley and Indiana Jones.[6] Ravenwood considered Jones to be the most gifted student he had ever trained, and as their relationship evolved, came to love him like a son. [7] At one point the professor and student attended a lecture by polar explorer Evelyn Briggs Baldwin.[8]

His summers spent on excavations in Egypt and the Middle East, amassing clues to find the Ark of the Covenant, led to obsession. When Ravenwood's scholarly obligations suffered as a result of his ignoring them, it prompted the University of Chicago to ask him to give up on the relic or leave. Abner chose the latter and continued his search. Unwilling to see his only child living alone, Ravenwood brought Marion along on his travels all over the world. In search of clues to the Ark's location they journeyed across Europe, Egypt, Iraq and Iran before the pair eventually settled in Nepal and started an inn/bar. Abner used their income to finance his excavations in the surrounding mountains.[2]

In 1925, Abner sent Indiana Jones his journal with a letter that requested his help in finding the Ark of the Covenant on a last expedition.[9] During that time Jones and Marion became romantically involved but the relationship didn't last a year.[1] Jones rejoined Abner Ravenwood in Jerusalem 1926,[10][11] but it was in Egypt where Abner recovered the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra, near the village of San el-Hagar. However, he didn't find Tanis' Map Room let alone the Well of the Souls.[1]

A 1927 journal reported on an expedition by Abner and Jones in Sinkiang.[12] Sometime after the July, Abner confronted Jones about the man's involvement with his young daughter which led to the collapse of their friendship. In their last conversation together, Abner accused the then twenty-eight-year-old of taking advantage of Marion's "brainless infatuation" with Jones, and twisting her to his purpose.[13]

While exploring the Himalayas in the 1930s, Ravenwood—as an authority on antiquities of Orient—was interviewed by a newspaper via cablegram interested in his opinion on the lost tomb of Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang.[14] In 1935, several letters with Ravenwood's name attached were exchanged with Indiana Jones following his former student's discovery of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in India.[15] After months of research in the mountains following a theory that the Ark had been taken through Nepal by Alexander the Great's army, Ravenwood was believed to have perished in an avalanche in 1936 while searching for the artifact in Nepal, shortly after realizing the Ark was back in Tanis.[2][16]


Later the same year, the Nazis under orders from Adolf Hitler started searching for the Ark of the Covenant. The U.S. government intercepted a message from Cairo to Berlin saying "Obtain Headpiece to the Staff of Ra, Abner Ravenwood, U.S." The government at first suspected Ravenwood as being in cahoots with the Nazis, but Indiana Jones and Marcus Brody discarded that theory at once. Jones was then requested by the government to find the Ark before the Nazis.[7] As he still had Abner's old journal in his possession, Jones was able to trace the last known whereabouts of his former mentor to Nepal.[9]

The Gestapo agent, Major Toht, was ordered by Adolf Hitler to acquire the headpiece from Ravenwood, but he found that Abner was gone and Indiana Jones had also come looking for it. In the end, Indy and Marion located the Ark, and Abner's lifelong search came to an end.[7]


The mysterious masked man that contacted Marion.

Following the Ark's discovery, Marion Ravenwood received a telegram from her father's former associate Bill Kershaw implying that Abner was still alive. She was joined by Jones and the search for Abner took them back to Nepal, to the hidden city of Ra-Lundi whose god was said to be a caucasian man. What they found was a man in a golden mask who possessed neither voice nor memory, that had been found wandering in the snow.

Convinced that he could be her father, Marion kept repeating her name to the man in the mask in the hope he'd recognize her to no avail. However, once she and Jones had left, the masked man repeated her name back. He later helped the pair blow up the city's actual god, the F'han-Tal, to protect its power from Andre LaFonte's men, but he was believed to have been killed in the large explosion created to destroy it. Marion decided that if the man had indeed been her father, Abner Ravenwood was finally at peace.[17]

Two years later, Ravenwood posthumously became a grandfather with the birth of Marion's son, Mutt Williams,[1] and by 1939 was the father-in-law of Colin Williams.[6] In 1957, he gained a son-in-law in his former student when Marion married Indiana Jones.[6]

Behind the scenesEdit

Abner Ravenwood is frequently mentioned but has never appeared in any published Indiana Jones adventure; plans to include him in the action were made, but never materialized:

  • Lawrence Kasdan, writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark, said that he, when writing the script, kept the door open for Ravenwood to appear in possible sequels (although this never happened at the end). In fact, the film doesn't definitely confirm the character's death, which at least for Kasdan meant that he still could be alive. As an interest note, in early drafts, there was originally planned an scene in which Marion would tell Indy that Abner had died crushed in an excavation site and about her own adventures, but the scene was cut from the final film because it was too long.[18]
  • During the early development of what became Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, director Steven Spielberg wanted to bring back Marion Ravenwood[19] with the idea of including Abner in the story.[20] However, when George Lucas decided that Indy would have a different love interest in each of the films, the idea was dropped.
  • Two issues of Marvel's The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones (published in 1984) hinted that Ravenwood was still alive, and presented a masked character that may or may not actually have been Ravenwood. Despite this, website stated during an interview with Leland Chee that the masked man was indeed a disguised Ravenwood.[21] Despite this, it couldn't be considered a canon declaration because Lucasfilm Ltd. hasn't given an official word about that statement. As an interest fact, during the same interview, Chee stated the the creative team could explore Abner's look in future stories.
  • Graverobber Fedora from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was originally intended to be Ravenwood in early scripts, but the idea was dropped for the final film.[22]
  • During production on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, George Lucas had the idea for an episode entitled "Jerusalem, June 1909" which saw nine-year-old Indiana Jones meeting Ravenwood for the first time. However, the episode was never filmed due to the series' cancellation.[5] In Treasure of the Peacock's Eye, Indy references a visit to Jerusalem, which might indicate that the events of the unproduced episode still are considered canon.

Abner Ravenwood's proposed look for Emperor's Tomb, based on actor Tom Selleck.

  • Dark Horse Comics' Indiana Jones and the Lost Horizon was intended to present Ravenwood's story and would have marked the character's first appearance, but the project was scrapped early in development. The series would show how Ravenwood with the help of Indy found the headpiece to the Staff of Ra in the belongings of a Chinese warlord. According to artist Hugh Fleming, actor Wilford Brimley was the model for Abner Ravenwood's planned appearance in the comic.[23] The events were referenced in The World of Indiana Jones.
  • Ravenwood was also originally intended to appear as Indy's partner in the Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb video game, but it complicated the game design. Concept art for the character — showing an Abner not quite as hefty as the Fleming version, but still sporting a mustache and fedora — can be unlocked during the game. Ravenwood's appearance seems to be inspired be the look of actor Tom Selleck, who originally was cast in the part of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  •, the franchise's official website, originally claimed that John Hurt would be playing Abner Ravenwood in the then untitled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull before the information was removed.[24] The reason for this announcement remains unknown, as it was later revealed that Hurt was in fact playing Harold Oxley.



Notes and referencesEdit

External linksEdit

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