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"Take back one kadam to honor the Hebrew God, whose Ark this is."
―Inscription on the Headpiece, as translated by Imam[src]

The Headpiece to the Staff of Ra was a much sought-after bronze medallion which was originally designed as a means to reveal the location of the Ark of the Covenant.

The headpiece was placed atop the Staff of Ra and used in the Map Room at Tanis to reveal the location of the Well of the Souls, the resting place of the Ark.


The actual Staff of Ra, in and of itself just a simple shaft of wood, was apparently long lost to the ages. However, the headpiece contained instructions on how to make a new staff. The instructions written on the headpiece stated that the staff should be "six kadams high." However, the obverse of the headpiece held specific instructions; that the builder was to subtract one kadam out of respect for the Hebrew God.[4]

The headpiece was discovered by the archeologist Abner Ravenwood in 1926, and later came into the hands of his daughter Marion, who wore it around her neck as a medallion.[3]

In 1934, Marion was robbed of the headpiece by a mercenary. She chased the thief to Tibet and teamed up with a member of the Adventure Society she met along the way. Together they tracked the medallion to a monastery where the thief believed the artifact was the key to treasure there.[5]

Marion sold the headpiece to Indiana Jones for three thousand dollars when he was searching for the Ark of the Covenant in 1936.[4]

Staff of Ra

Indy uses the Staff to locate the Ark.

The headpiece was momentarily in the possession of Nazi Gestapo agent Toht, during a fight at Ravenwood's bar. However, the headpiece had become extraordinarily hot having fallen into the fireplace, and the medallion scarred Toht's hand, leaving the imprint of the markings on his palm that allowed French archaeologist René Belloq to create his own headpiece for the Nazis to locate the Ark. However, Toht failed to realize the proper headpiece was engraved on both sides. As a result, Belloq's counterfeit headpiece caused the Nazis to build an overlarge staff, which led Indiana and Sallah to discover that "they're digging in the wrong place."[4]

Indiana, using the information on the headpiece, was able to locate the Well of Souls, which he infiltrated disguised as a native worker. Foisting the true headpiece atop a properly measured staff, Indiana marveled at how sunlight created a spectrum of red light showing the Ark's correct burial site. Later, Sallah and Indiana forged deeper into the Well of Souls, braving a colony of asps in order to recover the Ark. Their success was fleeting, however, as Belloq and the Nazis were waiting at the surface, holding Marion hostage in exchange for the Ark.[4]

Behind the scenes[]

The headpiece to the Staff of Ra was conceptualized for Raiders of the Lost Ark as being in two parts. While the second was in the possession of Marion Ravenwood in Nepal as in the final film, the first lay in Shanghai, in the private museum collection of Chinese warlord Tengtu Hok.[6]

While the idea of the headpiece being in two was dropped during rewrites of the screenplay, much of the sequence would later be recycled for the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.[6] An attempt to reincorporate the discarded Chinese warlord, now based out of Tibet, into the backstory of Indiana Jones and his mentor Abner Ravenwood first acquiring the headpice was made with the Dark Horse Comics story Indiana Jones and the Lost Horizon. However, the book didn't see publication as the company brought a halt to their production of Indiana Jones comics early in Lost Horizon's development.[7]


Ra 01

Barry Minot's prototype.

There were two different versions of the prop created by the art department. The first design shown on screen was created at Elstree Studios by Ron Punter and is the sculpt used predominantly throughout the film including The Raven and Map Room sequences. It is also the sculpt referenced for the burn marks on Major Toht's hand.[8]

However, the Punter's resin design didn't give the effect that director Steven Spielberg wanted for close-up shots and so sculptor and miniaturist Barry Minot was tasked with crafting a version of the headpiece that could withstand scrutiny when the film was projected onto a cinema screen.[9] Minot's more detailed version is used during the scene where the headpiece's marking are deciphered at the house of Imam set and includes an image of the cherubs from the Ark of the Covenant within the design.[8]

Ron Punter Headpiece

Ron Punter and his headpiece design.

Despite being implied in the movie to be Egyptian, the writing around the edges appears to actually be Hebrew. The script is related to ancient Phoenician, which was used for both Hebrew and even early Greek, but is called Paleo-Hebrew.

  • Transliterated it reads: "v'amah achat m'al" "kadesh" "kabed YHWH v'hamiskhkan".
  • Translated it reads: "and one amah (Which was a biblical measurement) above/more" "holy/set apart" "honor YHWH and the tabernacle".

This translation goes against how the old man translates it in the movie but explains why Indy's staff was actually taller than the Nazi staff.

The headpiece included a dire warning to not disturb the Ark of the Covenant, giving Indy the knowledge needed to survive the Ark's power later, though this warning was either forgotten, not on the side that was imprinted onto Toht or simply ignored by Belloq and the other Nazis present. In the novelization, the headpiece's warning is expanded on to include not touching the Ark, which explains a moment later when the Ark is discovered; Indy stops Sallah from lifting the Ark out with his bare hands and thus wooden poles are used.


Non-canon appearances[]


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