Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble

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9780062127181: Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble

The author of The Dead Beat and This Book is Overdue! turns her piercing eye and charming wit to the real-life avatars of Indiana Jones—the archaeologists who sort through the muck and mire of swamps, ancient landfills, volcanic islands, and other dirty places to reclaim history for us all.

Pompeii, Machu Picchu, the Valley of the Kings, the Parthenon—the names of these legendary archaeological sites conjure up romance and mystery. The news is full of archaeology: treasures found (British king under parking lot) and treasures lost (looters, bulldozers, natural disaster, and war). Archaeological research tantalizes us with possibilities (are modern humans really part Neandertal?). Where are the archaeologists behind these stories? What kind of work do they actually do, and why does it matter?

Marilyn Johnson’s Lives in Ruins is an absorbing and entertaining look at the lives of contemporary archaeologists as they sweat under the sun for clues to the puzzle of our past. Johnson digs and drinks alongside archaeologists, chases them through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and even Machu Picchu, and excavates their lives. Her subjects share stories we rarely read in history books, about slaves and Ice Age hunters, ordinary soldiers of the American Revolution, children of the first century, Chinese woman warriors, sunken fleets, mummies.

What drives these archaeologists is not the money (meager) or the jobs (scarce) or the working conditions (dangerous), but their passion for the stories that would otherwise be buried and lost.

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Review:

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, November 2014: Apologies to Indiana Jones, but—at least on the surface—archeology isn’t the sexiest of disciplines. There’s all that backbreaking field work, low pay, and a serious demand for patience. But as you read Marilyn Johnson’s Lives in Ruins: Archeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble you start to form a different picture. What is most fascinating about archeology is the stories—stories of lives dedicated to unearthing the past, and the stories that are literally being unearthed from the past. Johnson throws herself into her subject, taking a field class, following various archeologists into the field (and underwater), and exploring archeology’s role in the greater culture. In writing that is funny, entertaining, and enriching, she illustrates why archeologists derive such a thrill from what they do—and why we probably should as well. – Chris Schluep

From the Back Cover:

Finding Life in Ruins

Jump into a battered Indiana Jones–style Jeep with the intrepid Marilyn Johnson and head down bone-rattling roads in search of those who dig up the past. Johnson, the author of two acclaimed books about quirky subcultures–The Dead Beat (about obituary writers) and This Book Is Overdue! (about librarians)–brings her irrepressible wit and curiosity to bear on yet another strange world, that of archaeologists. Who chooses to work in ruins? What's the allure of sifting through layers of dirt under a hot sun? Why do archaeologists care so passionately about what's dead and buried–and why should we?

Johnson tracks archaeologists around the globe from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, from Newport, Rhode Island to Machu Picchu. She digs alongside experts on an eighteenth-century sugar plantation and in a first-century temple to Apollo.

She hunts for bodies with forensics archaeologists in the vast and creepy Pine Barrens of New Jersey, drinks beer with an archaeologist of ancient beverages, and makes stone tools like a caveman. By turns amusing and profound, Lives in Ruins and its wild cast of characters find new ways to consider what is worth salvaging from our past.

Archaeologists are driven by the love of history and the race to secure its evidence ahead of floods and bombs, looters and thieves, and before the bulldozers move in. Why spend your life in ruins? To uncover our hidden stories before they disappear.

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