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 and treasures lost. Archaeological research tantalizes us with possibilities (are modern humans really part Neanderthal?). 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, and chases them through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and even Machu Picchu. Her subjects share stories about slaves and Ice Age hunters, ordinary soldiers of the American Revolution, Chinese woman warriors, sunken fleets, and mummies. What drives these archaeologists is not the money (meager), the jobs (scarce), or the working conditions (dangerous) but their passion for the stories that would otherwise be buried and lost.