Sexy though she is, Lara Croft must remain in the realm of fiction. On the right, however, is the very real “Count de Prorok”, a genuine 1930s tomb-robber – masquerading as an archeologist.
Here’s a nice quote from his Wikipedia biography:
“Count” Byron Khun de Prorok (1896–1954, born in Philadelphia as Francis Byron Khun) was a Polish-American amateur archaeologist, anthropologist, and author of four heroic travelogues. He has come to be regarded as the original tomb raider, “loved by audiences and held in contempt by the scientific community”.
He certainly didn’t think small. Here’s his words from a 1930 article about his expedition in search of Atlantis:
“From the Atlantic to the Red Sea,”says Count de Prorok, “North Africa is an open-air museum unequaled in the world. The great ones of the past seem to haunt the desert trails, and often by some lone camp fire we have evoked the mighty shadows that have thundered by, disappearing into the dim mists of history. Hannibal, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Scipio Africanus, Caesar – those magic names alone have made a treasure house of memories in ancient Sahara lands.”
“And now to search the sea itself for those things which are beyond history – stories told from father to son for un-numbered generations; the land of legends. We embark upon this romantic quest confident that we shall give to the world some insight into the most ancient civilizations of all time – the lost Atlanteans.”
Another section from the Wikipedia article describes his discovery of an ancient Taureg tomb:
During the excavation of the tomb that followed a thunderstorm is alleged to have occurred which caused “great terror among the natives”. Work continued with new diggers and at last the condition of the grave of Tin Hinan was revealed and described by de Prorok, thus;
Whoever the personage was, whether Tin Hinan or one of her peers, she had been given the utmost honour in her death. Her jewelry was indicative of her rank, and in the antechamber of her tomb lay her clothing neatly piled, and ready for her use beyond the shadows. Here were garments of leather, painted red and yellow, as well as clothing of cotton and other fabrics, in various colours, ornamented by intricate fringes. No weapons were found, but food for her journey was by her, dates dried to the thinnest film of skin on the stone, and a store of what looked to have been grapes, together with jars of grain.
Despite protests from both Tuareg and “negro” tribes the expedition removed all the bones and treasures and took them back to the Ethnographical Museum in Algiers, where they remain on display.
By an interesting coincidence, a few days before I read this, I happened to re-read the short story “The Faceless God” by Robert Bloch (author of “Psycho”):
As for the natives, they were openly frightened. The moment that the top of the image came into view, they began to jabber hysterically. They retreated to the side of the excavation and began to argue and mumble, pointing occasionally at the statue, or at the kneeling figure of the doctor. Absorbed in his inspection, Stugatche failed to catch the body of their remarks, or note the air of menace which radiated from the sullen dragoman. Once or twice he heard some vague references to the name “Nyarlathotep,” and a few allusions to “The Demon Messenger.”
After completing his scrutiny, the doctor rose to his feet and ordered the men to proceed with the excavation. No one moved. Impatiently he repeated his command. The natives stood by, their heads hung, but their faces were stolid. At last the dragoman stepped forward and began to harangue the effendi.
He and his men would never have come with their master had they known what they were expected to do. They would not touch the statue of the god, and they warned the doctor to keep his hands off. It was bad business to incur the wrath of the Old God-the Secret One. But perhaps he had not heard of Nyarlathotep. He was the oldest god of all Egypt; of all the world. He was the God of Resurrection, and the Black Messenger of Karneter. There was a legend that one day he would arise and bring the olden dead to life. And his curse was one to be avoided.
However, de Prorok, unlike Bloch’s Dr Stugatche, didn’t end up dying in agony under the desert sands after a statue came to life.