Monday, July 13, 1998 Published at 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
World: Middle East
Real 'Raiders of the lost Ark'
Jones models himself on his Hollywood namesake
The Ark is said to have gone missing in 566BC, and Vendyl Jones - a Texan archaeologist who believes he may have been the inspiration for the film character Indiana Jones - says he has located where it is buried.
50 years ago the dead sea scrolls were found in this area. One of them, the mysterious Copper Scroll, speaks of buried treasure.
But it is not just any treasure, these are the sacred treasures of the Temple of Solomon, destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem 2,500 years ago.
For Jones' dedicated crew, all of whom have paid to be on the dig, it is back-breaking work with little reward. Many of them lack any archaeological credentials and are driven by the adventure and spiritualism of the dig.
In Jerusalem's Tower of David museum, representations of the temple that once housed the Ark still draw an admiring crowd.
"He has no academic qualifications whatsoever - he's more of an adventurer," says anthropologist Joe Zias. "People think that our job as biblical archaeologists is to go out and try to prove or disprove the Bible. You couldn't be further from the truth. Our job is to try to understand past historical processes, that's it."
Among Jerusalem's competing religious and national ideologies, the Ark is a potent symbol.
However, for the past 1,300 years that place has been occupied by the Dome of the Rock - Islam's third holiest shrine.
In the Hollywood blockbusters, Indiana Jones does battle with Nazis and head-hunters. Vendyl Jones, with his snakeskin belt and braces, certainly lives up to the swash-buckling image portrayed by Harrison Ford. Down by the Dead Sea, Vendyl relishes the parallels.
Vendyl Jones has been digging for more than a decade. But, for all his enthusiasm, all he has found so far is some oil that may or may not have been used in the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and 600kg of a reddish substance that he says is incense - but others say is dirt.
But Jones is undaunted - somewhere in the rock he says lies a much greater prize.