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Lives In Ruins: Archaeologists And The Seductive Lure Of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson

Lives In Ruins is Marilyn Johnson's third book.  It was initially the book that first caught my interest, but since my library had a copy of This Book Is Overdue, I read that one first.  Then we got a copy of The Dead Beat, which I also read.  In the hierarchy of Marilyn Johnson books, Lives In Ruins is at the top with This Book Is Overdue, and The Dead Beat is at the bottom.  For some reason, The Dead Beat just never caught fire for me like the other two did.  In Lives In Ruins (I love the title!), Johnson turns her sights on the field of archaeology and the passionate professionals who work in it.  It is a field about which you have to be passionate to work in it because it is not an easy life, you will never have career stability, and you won't get rich working as an archaeologist (far from it in fact).

The book begins at the beginning: at field school where archaeology students go for practical experience in the field on an actual dig.  Johnson also explores the many specialties available in archaeology, such as marine archaeology (the study of underwater ruins), paleoarchaeology and North American colonial archaeology.  She interviews the archaeologists who work in the field, attends an archaeology field school and another archaeology dig, takes college level classes in archaeology (including one in forensic archaeology that trains law enforcement agents in the principles and practices of archaeology and how to apply them to crime scenes), and attends quite a few archaeology conferences.  Along the way Johnson shares some interesting historical tidbits such as a lead on the search for the fate of  British explorer, Robert Cooke's ship Endeavor as well as the most important cemetery in U.S. history: the burying ground of Fishkill Supply Depot, a Revolutionary War era military supplies headquarters.  This last item continues to remain to this day a largely unknown piece of American history.  Johnson also writes about the archaeologists who work for the military, specifically the U.S. Army, as well as the important discoveries and sites for which they are responsible for identifying, studying and preserving.  These archaeologists are also responsible for educating soldiers in how to identify and preserve archaeological sites and artifacts in their theater of operations when on deployments.

This is a fascinating and easily accessible read that illuminates this often hard scrabble, always challenging, but deeply rewarding profession.  You will learn about the struggles and challenges that today's archaeologists face from the nature of the work to ever shrinking budgets and funding to the oblivious and sometimes even callous disregard on the part of others of the importance of preserving our history and culture before it is too late.  The latter two items go hand in hand sometimes, and it is heart breaking and outrageous what has been lost and what will be lost because of it.  You will also learn about history, including interesting and often little known aspects of historical events.  Truthfully, the history was just as interesting as the parts about the archaeologists, and I highly recommend this book.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie

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