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Real things from Tomb Raider 1

I must preface this by saying that archaeology and Egyptology are surface-level hobbies for me (well, a bit deeper than that), I am not an expert, I may be wrong about some things. But Tomb Raider was undoubtedly my gateway to a sincere love of ancient places. Here are some (but not all!) of the things from the first game that have roots in real life.


The first four levels of the game are set in the Peruvian mountains, among the ruins of the Inca civilisation. However, the things featured there seem to be from peoples across Mesoamerica, which Peru is not actually part of.

Aztec calendar

This is likely based on the Aztec Sun Stone, which has a 365-day “year count” and a 260-day “day count” ritual cycle, forming a 52-year “century.” Glyphs representing the 20 days of the Aztec month include crocodiles, deer, dogs, and monkeys.

Atlantean figures

Atlantean figures, or atlantes, are a personal favourite of mine, something about them just appeals to me. The Tomb Raider ones seem to be modelled on the famous Toltec warriors at Tula, but they were also carved by the Olmecs, Aztecs, and Mayans. I would love a miniature figurine of one but at the time of writing I have yet to find one I can order.

Mosaic snakes

I’m fairly certain that these blue snakes are inspired by these Mexican turquoise mosaic snakes carved by the Aztecs. The real serpents are currently at the British Museum and hopefully I’ll get to see them in person one day.

Tzompantli carvings

Tzompantli were essentially racks of skulls (usually human) with horizontal wooden poles through them. Not all were real skulls though, some are towers of skulls carved from stone. The front-facing ones in Tomb Raider are reminiscent of those at Templo Mayor by the Mexica people, whereas the sideways ones resemble Mayan carvings at Chichen Itza.

Palace of the Jaguars

This one isn’t an exact match, but I definitely get vibes of it, especially with the red paint. Also known as Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl, the ruins are part of Teotihuacan, although it is not certain who built them. The palace contains some surviving murals of jaguars.

Mayan carving

Unfortunately, I can’t find much information about this carving, and pages that were using it until recently seem to have deleted it. Regardless, it certainly has a strong resemblance to this texture in Tomb Raider. It seems to be the Frieze of Pleasures from Campeche, Mexico.

Chimu seabirds

The triangular portions of these carvings are reminiscent of those at a site called Chan Chan – which actually is in Peru – by the Chimu people.


Chicomecoatl is an Aztec goddess of corn who, despite granting prosperity, can also be behind bad harvests. Her name means “seven snakes.” I feel like I’ve seen a museum photo that must have inspired the original texture, but unfortunately I can’t find it online.


The next four levels are set in Greece, after Lara leaves Qualopec’s tomb with the first piece of the Scion, and discovers that Larson – a henchman of Natla, the woman who hired her – was waiting outside to take it from her. To try and outrun Pierre on his way to the second piece of the artifact, she heads to the fictional St. Francis’ Folly, which is clearly inspired by the monasteries of Meteora in Greece, and maybe even Katskhi Pillar in Georgia.

Greek wrestlers

This iconic marble carving is very clearly emulated in Tomb Raider. It was originally found in the Dipylon cemetery in Athens, on a statue base, and is from approx 510 BCE.

Minoan dolphins

This unmistakable dolphin fresco is from the Minoan palace at Knossos, on the island of Crete. In real life, this was not actually an underwater decoration. The Minoans were a Bronze Age seafaring people who likely had much experience with and admiration for, dolphins. I would guess that the markings were emulating Common or Striped dolphins. The reconstructed mural is at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

You can get a gorgeous bronze figurine of a Minoan dolphin too.


As it becomes clearer that ancient human civilisations are not what they seem and are perhaps, instead, Atlantean, Lara heads to Egypt for the third piece of the Scion. Egypt must once have been Natla’s domain, as the other two members of the Triumvirate, Qualopec and Tihocan, ruled South America and Ancient Greece respectively. In real life, the living remnants of the Ancient Egyptians are today’s Copts.


A Sphynx (or Sphinx), pronounced like “Sfinks,” is a mythical creature usually with a human head and body of a lion, sometimes with the wings of an eagle or other bird. I have a soft-spot for them. The Egyptian sphynxes in Tomb Raider are most likely inspired by the formidable Great Sphinx of Giza. Many other sphynxes exist, but they are usually much smaller. The Giza sphynx does indeed have passages inside, although most of them don’t go anywhere.


Coming from the Greek words for “flesh” and “to eat,” sarcophagi are essentially fancy coffins. Egyptian sarcophagi are varied but distinctive. You may notice that the ones in Tomb Raider are unseemingly tall for some reason . . .

Apparently you can get a replica sarcophagus with a little mummy in it!

Sekhmet & Khnum

This looks to be a carving of Menhit (later conflated with Sekhmet) and her husband Khnum, from the Temple of Khnum in Esna.

Gayer-Anderson Cat

This is another big favourite of mine, named for Major Robert Gayer-Anderson, who donated the original statue to the British Museum (where I hope to one day see it in person), and kept a copy at the Gayer-Anderson museum in Cairo.
Although the cat statue is bronze, which can turn green over time, the statue was apparently painted green in the 1930s in order to disguise repairs made by Gayer-Anderson, which include a metal cylinder inside its head! Sadly, the real cat figure is only 34cm high and 14cm wide, not as big as the ones in Tomb Raider. While the real statue also likely had jewelled eyes, as is the fate of many antiquities, they are no longer present.
I have a little green, glow-in-the-dark figurine that is clearly based on the Gayer-Anderson cat, unfortunately I can’t remember where I got it from.

Check out this gorgeous replica figure!

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