Cover image for Lives in ruins : archaeologists and the seductive lure of human rubble
Lives in ruins : archaeologists and the seductive lure of human rubble
Johnson, Marilyn, 1954- , author.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2014]
Physical Description:
x, 274 pages ; 24 cm
Examines "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"
Down and dirty : studying people who study people -- Boot camp. Field school : context is everything ; The survivalist's guide to archaeology : our ancestors were geniuses ; Extreme beverages : taking beer seriously ; Pig dragons : how to pick up an archaeologist ; My life is in ruins : jobs and other problems ; Road trip through time : our partner, heartbreak ; Underwater mysteries : slow archaeology, deep archaeology -- The classics. Explorers club : classics of the ancient world and Hollywood ; Field school redux : the earth-whisperers -- Archaeology and war. The bodies : who owns history? ; Evidence of harm : bearing witness ; Archaeology in a dangerous world : a historic alliance ; Avoidance targets : mission-- respect -- Heritage. Buckets of archaeologists : if archaeologists tried to save the world.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
CC175 .J64 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
CC175 .J64 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
CC175 .J64 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



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.

Author Notes

Marilyn Johnson is a former editor and writer for Life, Esquire, and Outside magazines. She is the author of The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries, This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, and Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble. Both The Dead Beat and This Book Is Overdue! received Washington Irving Book Awards.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this lively love letter to archaeologists, former Esquire editor Johnson (This Book is Overdue!) travels the world, getting her hands dirty as she studies archaeologists in their natural habitats. She joins field schools, attends conferences, and chats with the legendary and the up-and-coming practitioners of the discipline and displays infectious enthusiasm for the material. Johnson samples drinks prepared from recipes discovered in ancient tablets, braves bad weather and worse food, visits body farms, and hobnobs with the military all in an effort to examine and explore every aspect of archaeologist's life. Her experiences are eye-opening, engaging, and occasionally frustrating, and she talks about the downsides of the occupation: "Those who persevere in the profession fight like cats to get these jobs and work like dogs to keep them. And for all their expertise, competence, breadth of experience, and even cockiness, they are continually humbled by their subject. For people who know so much, there is so much they can never know." But, as Johnson states, it's all about "trying to locate a spark of the human life that had once touched that spot there." Many archaeologists credit Indiana Jones with sparking their passion, and Johnson may well inspire a new generation to take up this calling. Agent: Chris Calhoun, Chris Calhoun Agency. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Johnson's (This Book Is Overdue) wonderful and engaging work peels back the superficial glamour surrounding archaeology and archaeologists, offering an account that is a step above the typical book on the subject. The author sets out to explore what archaeology is really like and puts herself in the mainstream of her subject. Through personal experiences, interviews, and research, she exposes the suffering that archaeologists must endure to pursue their "craft" and honestly portrays the relentless, glamourless pursuit of the human condition through material culture. While Johnson provides great insight into why someone would choose to become an archaeologist, she also notes that success rarely occurs from monumental or notable discoveries. Rather, victory for an archaeologist is often found in the small, the hidden, and often unimpressive bits of flotsam and jetsam of prehistory. Johnson's contribution to this genre is unmatched. VERDICT Without glitz, the author has created a very enjoyable work that will be appreciated by experts in the field and casual readers alike. Well suited to anyone contemplating archaeology as a career, those curious about what the profession is like, lovers of history and science, and readers who enjoy and are grateful for the lure of prehistory and discovery as a mental process.-John Dockall, Austin, TX (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Down and Dirty: Studying people who study peoplep. 1
Boot Camp
Field School: Context is everythingp. 15
The Survivalist's Guide to Archaeology: Our ancestors were geniusesp. 37
Extreme Beverages: Taking beer seriouslyp. 68
Pig Dragons: How to pick up an archaeologistp. 74
My Life Is In Ruins: Jobs and other problemsp. 85
Road Trip Through Time: Our partner, heartbreakp. 95
Underwater Mysteries: Slow archaeology, deep archaeologyp. 101
The Classics
Explorers Clubs: Classics of the ancient world and Hollywoodp. 123
Field School Redux: The earth-whisperersp. 134
Archaeology and War
The Bodies: Who owns history?p. 155
Evidence of Harm: Bearing witnessp. 175
Archaeology in a Dangerous World: A historic alliancep. 190
Avoidance Targets: Mission: respectp. 199
Buckets of Archaeologists: If archaeologists tried to save the worldp. 219
Acknowledgmentsp. 241
Select Bibliographyp. 245
Indexp. 259