UCSD’s ‘Indiana Jones’ stars in new NatGeo series ‘Lost Cities’

Acre, Israel - Dr. Albert Lin (R) observes as Dr. Robert Kool of the Israel Antiquities Authority examines a crusader-era coin. (Blakeway Productions/National Geographic)
(Blakeway Productions/Blakeway Productions/National Geographic)

Host Albert Lin roams the world, using high tech to explore ancient antiquities


National Geographic TV on Monday will begin broadcasting “Lost Cities,” a six-part series in which scientists use the latest technology to explore antiquities, from the Lost Kingdom of the Pacific in Micronesia to the Knights Templar in Israel.

The show is hosted by University of California San Diego technologist Albert Lin, whose globe-trotting archaeological and cultural expeditions have earned him the nickname Indiana Jones.

Lin also is a National Geographic Explorer — a scholar who is funded by NatGeo to conduct research or exploration.

The first episode of the series will air at 9 p.m. PDT on Monday. The Union-Tribune recently spoke with Lin by phone to discuss his latest forays around the globe. Here is an edited version of the conversation.

Q: You’re gone a lot. How has it been going?
A: This has been the craziest year of my life. I’ve been everywhere from deserts in Jordan to the jungle in Micronesia to northern Norway, near the Arctic Circle. It seemed like each place was more spectacular than the one before it. It was grueling and exhausting. But you get a sense of humanity, from the hunter-gatherers to the Knights Templar monks from the Crusades.

Q: Were there some real surprises?
A: I was sent to Micronesia not really knowing what to expect. I’d seen some images of archaeological sites from the Lost Kingdom of the Pacific. But I didn’t know much more than that. When I got there I saw something that almost looked like it was out of Disney.

There are these huge — massive — basalt stones that are stacked, almost like logs in a log cabin. It’s volcanic rock that had been mined on the other side of the island. How did they mine them? How did they move them? How did all of this get done?

Q: What else sticks out in your mind?
A: We had to get permission to film there. That involved going to a ceremony where these guys were pounding kava root with a stone and putting it into a drink. I was warned that it would be strong. It was. I drank it and my mouth immediately went numb and it affected my vision and made me wobbly.

We were given permission to film and were told that we had a responsibility to protect the island as we told this story. This is a story of wonder and awe. It is mind blowing.

Q: What was Norway like?
A: The sun didn’t set while we were there. It was brutal. But you don’t want to stop filming because it is forever the “golden hour” when it comes to the light. The light hits these big murals of rock art and they seem to explode. The murals were carved into the stone tens of thousands of years ago. You could see the tracks of bears and pictures of humans — all sorts of humans.

One of the images shows a guy in a boat. A little boat. He has this long, long fishing line that goes all the way to the bottom of the ocean. At the end of the line is this massive halibut.

How did someone who lived thousands of years ago realize that there was some “monster” fish down there and that you could create a fishing line and somehow bring it to the surface and feed your family?