As with any profession, most outsiders tend to see the “coolness” factor and be ignorant of the day-to-day realities of working in the field. This is surely true of archaeology, a field that may seem glamorous thanks to Indiana Jones or because of the spectacular finds that sometimes get publicized. But the reality is that, overall, archaeologists are sporadically employed and woefully underpaid. Still, those who have a passion for digging up the truths of past civilizations pursue their dreams despite the economic realities and the usually unpleasant conditions of the fieldwork.
Marilyn Johnson learns more about the people whose “lives are in ruins” by tagging along with some of them in various locations around the world. She pays to participate in a field school at an independent center in the Caribbean, where for a week she learned about the influence a few hundred years ago of the island of St. Eustastius, that “had a free port, where a teeming multiethnic trading center sprang up with merchants from everywhere, including one of the largest populations of Jews and free blacks in the New World.”
Johnson profiles the archaeologist in charge of the dig at St. Eustastius and then goes on to tell readers about the personalities and passions of archaeologists who focus on early humans from the Ice Age, on Revolutionary War-era shipwrecks submerged off the coast of Rhode Island, on the oldest sites in South America, and even those who specialize in ancient alcohol. She provides a window on their professional lives but also into their characters, generally how determined they all are to keep doing their work even when funds are practically nonexistent and government and business interests thwart them.
Lives in Ruins is an interesting look at archaeology around the world and a few of the people who can’t stop digging into the past.
Rated: Mild, for some uses of mild and moderate language.