Golden Idol

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Golden Idol
Gold idol-screenshot.jpg
Fictional "Golden Idol" (Ancient goddess of fertility) from the 1981 feature film Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Plot element from Indiana Jones franchise
First appearance
Created bySteven Spielberg & George Lucas
In-story information
TypeFictional idol
Element of stories featuringIndiana Jones

The Fertility Idol, more commonly referred to as the Golden Idol, is a fictitious artifact that appears in the opening sequence of the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first entry in the Indiana Jones adventure film franchise directed by Steven Spielberg. It is the first relic that the audience sees the protagonist Jones acquire, establishing him as a treasure hunter. The idol's likeness has become iconic in popular culture.

In the film[edit]

In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, the idol is portrayed as resting in an ancient, abandoned temple in South America. The specific location is not given in the film, other than a subtitle that reads "South America, 1936".

Fictional history[edit]

Based on the film and Indiana Jones comic books, the idol was erroneously attributed to the Chachapoyan tribe in Peru, South America, although the specimen from which it was modeled is carved of greenstone, attributed to the Aztec culture, and is currently on exhibit at the Dumbarton Oaks collections in Washington, D.C. It was sought in 1936, in the Peruvian Amazon jungle, by archaeologist/treasure hunter Indiana Jones. Jones had heard of the idol when a score of golden purportedly Chachapoyan figurines began to appear on the antiquities market. Jones and Marcus Brody, curator of the National Museum, believed that hitherto undiscovered Chachapoyan temples had been located and were being plundered. Evidence pointed to one of Jones's competitors, a Princeton archaeologist named Forrestal (another fictional character), who had embarked on an expedition to Peru a year earlier and never returned. With help from the journal of a 19th-century explorer and contacts in South America, Jones follows in Forrestal's footsteps, determined to acquire the real prize: a golden representation of the Chachapoyan goddess of fertility and childbirth, said to be secreted in the heart of the Temple of Warriors. While penetrating the Temple of Warriors, Jones finds Forrestal's remains impaled on the wooden spikes of a booby trap.[1]

The original Aztec birthing figure from Dumbarton Oaks. Recent microscopic analysis of the incisions and drill holes has determined that they were most probably made by modern tools.

The golden idol was placed upon an ancient Chachapoyan altar. It was the exact weight to hold an ancient self-destruct mechanism in place.[1] Jones knows of the booby trap and attempts to replace the idol with a bag of sand. His attempt fails when he incorrectly estimates the weight of the idol. After escaping the many traps set by the Chachapoyans including a giant boulder, he finds rival archaeologist Rene Belloq waiting outside with a group of Hovitos, the local natives. Surrounded and outnumbered, Jones is forced to give up the artifact to Belloq. Jones escapes from Belloq and the Hovitos after a jungle pursuit, flying away on a waiting seaplane.

As related in the Indiana Jones comics, years later, Indy regains the idol from a black market antiquities dealer located in Marrakesh, Morocco (where Jones, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, deduces that Belloq sold it). However, also on the trail for the idol is Xomec, a descendant of the Chachapoyans, and Ilsa Toht, sister of Gestapo agent Arnold Toht. The two want to use the idol to unite Amazonian tribes and disrupt wartime rubber production in South America, as well as lure Jones to his death.[1]

Historical basis[edit]

The movie prop idol was based on the actual Dumbarton Oaks birthing figure in the pre-Columbian collection at Dumbarton Oaks. The artifact is presumed to depict the Aztec goddess Tlazolteotl.[2] Scientific analysis by the Smithsonian, though, shows the Dumbarton figure to be a probable fake from the late 1800s.[3][4] Other scholars are less certain, but express similar doubts.[5]

The Chachapoya culture was a genuine subject of interest for scientists under the Nazi government, particularly Jacques de Mahieu, who like the fictional Belloq was a French collaborator. Based on quotations from Spanish colonists (many of them fabricated), and on his interpretations of since-refuted archaeological digs, he argued that descendants of Vikings had once ruled Peru.[6][7]

In reality the Chachapoya did not build the elaborate trap systems portrayed in the film. However, they were accomplished builders of fortified cities, as sites like the Kuélap settlement show. These structures were characteristically built on high slopes, unlike the temple hidden in heavily jungled lowlands in the film. Their sculptural style was far different from that of the Golden Idol, as shown by the sarcophagi at Carajía.


The prologue of Raiders is an homage to Carl Barks' Scrooge McDuck adventure ″The Seven Cities of Cibola,″ published in Uncle Scrooge #7 from September 1954.[8] This homage in the film takes the form of playfully mimicking the removal-of-the-statuette-from-its-pedestal and the falling-stone sequences of the comic book.[9][10][11]

In popular culture[edit]

The Golden Idol appears in the fictional in-film movie Sand Pirates of the Sahara from the feature film The Majestic (2001). It was also shown briefly in the episode "Dax" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (season 1, episode 8), in Jadzia Dax's quarters. It appears briefly in the treasure room in the film Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. It appeared in the web-based puzzle game Star Wars: Galactic Spy. It also appears as part of the collection of Dryden Vos in the 2018 movie Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The idol can also be found on display in a museum in the third level of the 1998 video game Blood II: The Chosen.

A spoof of the idol scene shows up in the "Weird Al" Yankovic movie UHF (1989), however the actual idol is replaced with an Academy Award statuette.

The idol also makes an appearance in the 2012 video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II.


  1. ^ a b c Luceno, James (2008). Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide. New York: DK Publishing. pp. 58–61. ISBN 978-0-7566-3500-8.
  2. ^ "Tlazolteotl (photo of Dumbarton Oaks idol)". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. 2009. Retrieved 20 July 2009.
  3. ^ Walsh, Jane MacLaren (May–June 2008). "Legend of the Crystal Skulls". Archaeology. 61 (3). Retrieved 2009-07-20. the Tlazolteotl idol, like the crystal skulls, is a 19th century fake.
  4. ^ Walsh, Jane MacLaren (2008). "La Tlazolteotl de Dumbarton Oaks: un regard sous la surface" [The Dumbarton Oaks Tlazolteotl: looking beneath the surface] (English abstract). Journal of the Society of Américanistes (in French). Société des Américanistes/ Society of Americanism. 94 (1): 7–43. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
  5. ^ Kubler, George. "Ancient American Gods and Their Living Impersonators" (PDF). Dumbarton Oaks. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-06-13. Retrieved 2009-07-20.
  6. ^ Ibarra Grasso, Dick Edgar (1997) Los Hombres Barbados en la América Precolombina p. 66
  7. ^ Llanos, Oscar Olmedo (2006) Paranoia Aimara p. 182
  8. ^ "Uncle Scrooge McDuck: His Life and Times" Celestial Arts Press, Millbrae, Califormia, 1981.
  9. ^
  10. ^ Stefano Priarone in Walt Disney's Uncle $crooge: The Seven Cities of Gold, Fantagraphics Books, 2014. ″Uncle Scrooge takes Donald and the nephews on a perilous trek in search of the fabled seven cities of gold! This is the Scrooge story famous for providing Steven Spielberg and George Lucas with inspiration for parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark.″
  11. ^