Having enjoyed The Dead Beat and This Book is Overdue, books about obituary writers and librarians, I am a Marilyn Johnson fan. She is making her mark investigating professions that attract people more interested in discovery of facts than in their salaries. Her third book is Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Many have dreamed of careers in archaeology. Johnson's new book reveals the lives that they might have led.
Thanks to real archaeologists such as Howard Carter and Louis Leakey and fictional characters Amelia Peabody and Indiana Jones, many people think of archaeology as an exciting career. It can be, but the dramatic action rarely requires jumping from a horse onto a speeding train. Instead, the allure of archaeology comes from discovering revealing fragments of past cultures in the forms of pieces of pottery, buttons, old coins, building foundations, and human bones. In the field, archaeologists spend much of their time on the ground with a trowel and brushes, gently removing items from the soil, recording every possible fact about their locations.
If you had become an archaeologist, you might have traveled all over the world to collect artifacts, or you might have become involved in emergency investigations of real estate properties before building construction. In either case, you would have been sporadically employed, unless you were one of the lucky few to land academic positions. Many of the people Johnson profiles have had to hold second jobs or create their own foundations to investigate neglected historical sites. They are a fascinating group.
Armchair travelers will enjoy Lives in Ruins, as Johnson takes readers around the world, often to almost secret locations. They will also experience uncomfortable working conditions (not recommended for the claustrophobic) and attend professional conferences. It is as close as many of us will get to living the dream.
Johnson, Marilyn. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Harper, 2014. 274p. ISBN 9780062127181.