Uncharted 4: An Archaeologist's Dream

Uncharted 4 is explored through the perspective of an archaeology student, which highlights all the historical accuracies in the game.

Emily Kelso
9th May 2022
Image: Naughty Dog
People are obsessed with the past.
A jeep driving around in Uncharted 4.
Image: Sony

Some people are obsessed enough to get a degree in it (hello!) The only downside to a degree in studying the past is that every depiction of the past in popular culture becomes tarnished beyond belief. For example, I couldn't get through one episode of Bridgerton without yelling "they wouldn't have smoked cigarettes, they would have smoked clay pipes!" It is a rarity for me to enjoy a form of entertainment which is rooted in the past, but Uncharted 4 succeeds where the rest fail.

Uncharted 4 is the fourth game in the Uncharted series for PlayStation. Each game is rather formulaic: follow treasure hunter Nate Drake, Victor Sullivan and a band of thieves search for and discover a priceless treasure, nearly dying in the process. There is no doubt that the first three games in the franchise are wonderful, but Uncharted 4 is the pinnacle. Uncharted 4 has a more-detailed backstory complete with fictional papers that lets you immerse yourself in the history, more of which is true than you may believe. Three aspects of Uncharted 4's gameplay delight myself as an archaeology student: Libertalia; the treasures; the graveyard (sounds weird, but trust me).

Libertalia as depicted in Uncharted 4.
Image: Naughty Dog

Each Uncharted game concerns a 'treasure', and Uncharted 4 concerns Libertalia. The first three games concern relatively well-known treasures from El-Dorado to Iram of the Pillars, but Libertalia is also real. Well, maybe. Charles Johnson's 'General History of Pirates' details the story of Captain James Mission who infected the crew of his ship with notions of liberty.

As the story goes, Mission founded a settlement on the north coast of Madagascar, where a new language and government was developed. Some argue that Johnson's account is false, but his other stories have sometimes been true; Madagascar was a pirate haven already and other pirates attempted to set up their own utopias. The only deviation concerns Mission: Mission was not included as one of the in-game founders of Libertalia, although Thomas Tew played a role both in-game and in Johnson's Libertalia.

The treasures you can find in-game might not be the ultimate goal of Uncharted 4, but it sure is fun to pick them up as you go along. Some treasures sound intriguing. Some are beautifully mundane and typical of the period. Take the Earthenware mug. Earthenware was a form of ceramic used in England by most citizens, although fancier versions include creamware, which was meant to imitate Chinese porcelain. There are also tobacco boxes to be found, which are a subtle nod to the growing usage of tobacco by Europeans. Some objects have a darker connotation than first seems: items that mention "mother of pearl" or "tortoiseshell" speak to the growing trend of hunting animals for personal use.

Uncharted 4 provides a safe haven for those history-lovers who struggle to find good and entertaining representations of the past

Perhaps the most exciting piece of historically-accurate world building to me is the graveyard. Nate and Sam have to explore the graveyard for a particular gravestone, and the developers at Naughty Dog didn't skimp on the details. At first glance, people may assume the abundance of skulls is just a reference to the pirate theme in Uncharted - but they'd be mistaken!

Gravestones were slowly becoming more common, and the earlier gravestones (circa 1700s, when Uncharted is set) include what is called memento mori iconography. This theme essentially reminds you that you'll die at some point (Cheery!). Symbols used on gravestones from this time include sexton's tools and... skulls. All of these are present in-game if you look closely. Some skulls even have wings, which represents the transition to the next most popular motif on gravestones to appear: cherubs with wings. For someone who studies gravestones, seeing details like these truly amaze me.

All in all, Uncharted 4 provides a safe haven for those history-lovers who struggle to find good and entertaining representations of the past. Now they really are rarer than the long lost treasures that Nate discovers!

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AUTHOR: Emily Kelso
Third year History and Archaeology student. Also a Comment Sub-Editor.

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