When we hear the word medal, we think of an award. And that would be a correct association. By definition, a medal or medallion is a flat piece of metal, often round, that has been cast, stamped or sculpted with some artistic design. Historically, a medal or medallion was given as award to a person or group for outstanding achievement, a practice that dates back to the time of Alexander the Great.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a medallion in the possession of Indiana Jones’ mentor Abner Ravenwood was anything but an award for outstanding achievement.
The year was 1936 and Hitler’s Nazi Party was in power in Germany. U.S. Army intelligence gathered information that the Nazis were looking for Abner Ravenwood and a medallion that was, in fact, the head of the Staff of Ra which was the key to finding the Well of Souls where the Ark of the Covenant was buried in Egypt. According to legend, whoever possessed the Ark became invincible. Indiana Jones was commissioned to find the Ark and prevent the Nazis from getting their hands on it.
Indiana Jones flew to Nepal in search of Ravenwood with whom he had a falling out ten years earlier because of his romantic involvement with Ravenwood’s daughter, Marion. Jones found Marion at her tavern and was told that Abner had died. After sending off Jones with instructions to come back the following day, Marion pulled out the medallion, which she had been wearing as a necklace, from under her shirt. She gazed at it pensively for a moment then left it on the table with the chain wound around a driftwood that served as a candleholder.
Meanwhile, the Nazis have also located Marion. During a fight which accidentally set the tavern on fire, Nazi hitman Arnold Toht tried to clasp the medallion that had fallen on the floor. The hot metal burned his palm and he dropped the medallion.
In Cairo, Jones’ friend Sallah, an excavator, told him that the Nazis were digging for the Well of Souls with the use of a replica of the medallion that had been cast from the scar on Toht’s hand.
Sallah brought Jones to a friend who could interpret the markings on the medallion. Because the medallion had markings on both sides, they realized that the Nazis had only half of the information, their staff was too long and they were, consequently, digging in the wrong place.
Armed with all the information he needed, Jones started digging. Then, at the correct hour of the day, he attached the medallion to his staff and planted it exactly where it was supposed to go. When the sun shone through the crystal at the center of the medallion, the refracted light pointed to the location of the Well of Souls.