Ancient Booby Traps a la Indiana Jones...

Are there any documented instances of people finding working booby traps in any ancient setting (tomb, pyramid, etc.).

And were they a myth of Hollywood, or did some cultures actually protect stuff with crazy booby traps?


I think the famous tomb of Qin Shihuang in China was supposedly equipped with crossbows that were set up to automatically shoot intruders - at least according to contemporary historical sources. I don’t know if anyone actually found any auto-crossbows set up in the tomb though - presumably not. If nothing else, the idea of booby-trapped tombs has been around for a really long time.
A site about the tomb.

Of course, there was that scene in Temple of Doom where Indy, stuck in the spike-laden deathtrap with the bratty kid, gives Kate Capshaw detailed instructions on how to find and use the escape lever, proving that all ancient dethtraps adhere to a strict uniform construction code.

It seems highly improbable that most of the Indiana Jones-type booby straps would remain set for an extended period; anything made of organic material (such as the string of a crossbow) will rot through in a few years at most, probably sooner; anything with a ‘hair trigger’ will sieze up as dust, moisture and bugs crawl into the mechanism.

I suppose you could construct a large flat, thin panel of baked terracotta and use it as a floor over a pit of spikes - that would last for centuries.

Given that archaeologists routinely find tombs and temples that were plundered in antiquity, and never seem to find the bodies of grave-robbers who were impaled on gigantic spikes or flattened by giant bowling balls, it’s probably fair to say that booby traps weren’t used much.

Of course, when I say ‘you could…’, what I mean is that this is the kind of trap I could imagine would persist a while; I’m certainly not recommending anyone create such a thing.

I’m also not sure if this kind of thing has ever been found in an ancient structure.

You want to know where those scenes come from? Read my essay Only the Penitent Duck will Pass in Teemings #5:

I thought that weak headways that would collapse if you tried to tunnel through them were to be found in Egypt. Maybe I picked that up from Hollywood as well.

What are you talking about? In the Indiana Jones movies, there are ALWAYS bones found in the cobra pits. Why, I even seem to remember one scene where he escaped the walls with spikes closing in after jamming a skull in the works, or something like that.

We are talking about real life here, Ravenman.

Jake4, you mean the Indiana Jones movies weren’t documentaries?? :wink:

I’ve been in a tomb in Egypt that had huge pits in the floor of the tunnel (now with modern walkways over) - people where claiming that they had been traps, certainly looked that way.

As to why no Indy-style corpses, IIRC most of the early tomb-robbers were in fact the very people who had build the tombs in the first place - they knew what was in the tombs worth nicking, and how all the gizmos (like false shafts) worked.

Incidently, the cutest tombs (if not the grandest) were those of the tomb-builders themselves - covered in beautiful paintings of the afterlife they were hoping for

I recently watched Raiders again, and found myself saying “Oh come on! That’s impossible!” more than once. Particularly when Indy is entering the (Central American?) temple. He pauses before a spot where a beam of sunlight is shining into the tunnel. He waves his hand in the beam and a bunch of spears shoot out (with his predecessor’s corpse impailed on them.) I mean, the Mayans had photocells to trip death traps with?!?!

There’s the Oak Island “Money Pit” which was apparently designed to flood when someone dug through. Not quite “ancient” times though.

Weeeell, not really scr4. Do a bit of googling (sorry, I’m feeling lazy) and you will find that the whole Oak Island thing is probably hooey. In particular, the flooding was probably a result of the natural geology of the area.

Hmm, you’re right Princhester. According to this Skeptical Inquirer article:

That’s the last time I’ll trust the Discovery Channel!

Is there any chance you could watch that film for what it is? Its an adventure film for children. Does anyone go to the cinema these days to be entertained by make believe anymore? On a similar note I thought that bit in Lord of the Rings was like so fake when the hobbits met Treebeard…I mean that particular species of tree would have lost all its leaves at that time of the year…sheeesh.

I believe that that was necessary for their ISO 9000 certification.

(oh boy I wish I could be more specific)

I was watching a documentary about Egyptian pyramids recently. You know, those documentaries with the really skinny American guy and that Egyptian dude who speaks English with a heavy accent. Zahi Awass or something like that. They’re on The Travel Channel all the time… They said they did indeed find an ancient booby trap. It was a “fake” ceiling in a tunnel. It collapsed, showering rocks and dirt into a tunnel. No one was injured but they hauled ass out of there. They also went into a tomb chamber of another pyramid and realized they were standing in two feet of dust that was toxic. Or was it just an irritant??? Eh, maybe this will jog someone else’s memory and they can fill in the gaps.

Wow, that’s a fascinating article. I had never heard about Carl Barks before this, but his work sounds pretty amazing.