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The year 1981 in archaeology involved some significant events.
- June: Owen Beattie of the University of Alberta begins the 1845–48 Franklin Expedition Forensic Anthropology Project (FEFAP) on King William Island to trace Franklin's lost expedition.
- Late ice age tools found in inland Tasmania.
- Full photographic survey of the wreck of the Breadalbane in the Northwest Passage.
- Ain Ghazal is discovered during road construction outside Amman, Jordan.
- Excavation of Etruscan (or Greek) shipwreck of c. 600 BC off Isola del Giglio, Italy, directed by Mensun Bound, begins.
- David Burgess-Wise - Automobile Archaeology (Cambridge, England: Patrick Stephens Ltd).
- Derek Roe - The Lower and Middle Palaeolithic Periods in Britain (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).
- Ceremonial decorated bronze Celtic Agris Helmet found in a cave near Agris in southwestern France.
- Wreck of RMS Republic (1903) located off Nantucket by Captain Martin Bayerle.
- Undley bracteate found near Lakenheath in eastern England.
- Gold bar found in Mexico City, subsequently confirmed as made of material appropriated during the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire and presumably abandoned by the Spanish at the time of La Noche Triste in 1520.
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- June 12 - Film Raiders of the Lost Ark, featuring fictional 1930s archaeologist Indiana Jones, is released.
- Colin Renfrew is elected to the Disney Professorship of Archaeology in the University of Cambridge.
- Riace bronzes are put on show in Italy for the first time since their discovery in 1972.
- Pickford, Nigel (1999). Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. ISBN 0-7922-7472-5.
- "Treasure of the RMS Republic". New York: MVSHQ, Inc. 2009. Retrieved 2012-03-22.
- Reuters (2020-01-10). "Mexico City gold was Aztec loot Spanish abandoned as they fled in 1520, tests show". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2020-01-12.
- "'Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark': 1981 review". NY Daily News. Retrieved 5 June 2017.
- "The Riace bronzes- 43 years ago, the bronze warriors emerged from the sea". The Vintage News. 21 May 2016. Retrieved 30 December 2017.