Accessibility links

Real-life Indiana Jones Finds Ancient Religious Sites in Turkey

  • Erika Celeste

The Çatiören synagogue, which Dr. Fairchild discovered in the spring of 2007, more than likely dates back to the Hellenistic Period around the 1st or 2nd Century B.C., based on the polygonal masonry and a nearby inscription.

Hollywood's famous archeologist Indiana Jones has nothing on Mark Fairchild.

The film character and the religion professor both teach at a university in Indiana. Like Jones, Fairchild travels to far-off places in search of Biblical antiquities and doesn’t like snakes. In fact, his students call him Indiana Mark. And like the hero of five adventure movies, Fairchild is also a film star, of sorts, in a new documentary by two of his former students.

Not all archeologists have such dramatic adventures, but their discoveries are just as exciting.
Not all archeologists have such dramatic adventures, but their discoveries are just as exciting.

Matt Whitney says when he and his friend Logan Bush went on their first trip to Turkey with Mark Fairchild, they couldn’t believe a film hadn’t already been made about the Huntington University professor of Biblical studies and religion. "This guy is in his 60s and is climbing giant mountains all day long and discovering lost cities out in the middle of the wilderness!"

After the students graduated in 2015, they formed a production company called Squatchagawea Films. They returned to Turkey with Dr. Fairchild, and this past May, completed filming a documentary, tentatively titled The Last Apostle: Journeys in the Holy Land.

​"We’re using this trip that we take along St. Paul’s missionary route as a backdrop and a story to bring us along on Dr. Fairchild’s day to day life," Whitney explains. "You’re going to be seeing this amazing archeologist who’s done all these amazing things, but you’ll also be learning all about Turkey."

An accidental archeologist

Mark Fairchild didn’t start out to be an archeologist. As a Biblical historian, he was fascinated that most of the New Testament takes place in Turkey. Twenty years ago, he made a side trip to the country, and was so impressed with the antiquities he saw there that he became a self-taught archeologist and began spending all his free time in Turkey.

At Adamkayalar, north of the seaside town of Kızkalesi, Turkey, 17 Roman-era (1st Century B.C.-2nd Century A.D.) reliefs of warriors and citizens are carved on a towering cliff face.
At Adamkayalar, north of the seaside town of Kızkalesi, Turkey, 17 Roman-era (1st Century B.C.-2nd Century A.D.) reliefs of warriors and citizens are carved on a towering cliff face.

He says that by finding Hellenistic and Jewish sites, he’s often able to learn more about early Christianity. On one of his trips in 2012, he uncovered the oldest synagogue in the world. "As I was climbing up," he recalled, "I noticed off to my left there are many other buildings dated to the Hellenistic period, looked off onto my left-hand side and there’s what appears to be a menorah."

Fairchild has visited more than 350 sites in Turkey. He often makes his discoveries by visiting the countryside and talking with the locals. While they’re often aware of many ruins, they seldom know what they are or have visited themselves. That’s partly because they’re so remote and overgrown and partly because the country sees its history as beginning with Islam.

A better understanding of Turkey

Fairchild hopes his work, as well as this film, gives Westerners not only an appreciation of the past, but a better understanding of Turkey’s role in the modern world.

"If we’re ever going to resolve this problem of terrorism, Turkey, in my belief, has to be a player," he insists. "Turkey is 99 percent Muslim, but they are very secular. It is the most moderate Muslim nation in the world. They have good relations with most Western countries, they’re part of NATO and they want more."

Matt Whitney works on production for his documentary about Mark Fairchild’s archeological explorations in Turkey. (E.Celeste/VOA)
Matt Whitney works on production for his documentary about Mark Fairchild’s archeological explorations in Turkey. (E.Celeste/VOA)

The filmmakers hope to have their feature-length documentary ready for release by the end of September. It will then make the rounds at several film festivals and be available on the internet.

XS
SM
MD
LG