When I was younger I wanted to be an archaeologist. Or, more specifically, an Egyptologist. I’m told this is something a lot of kids go through, but I really went for it. I had a binder full of website print outs about ancient Egypt, I made a “shoebox” about the country that was shaped like a pyramid (for a class project), and was an ancient Egyptian queen for Halloween when I was around 11. I owned it. And then, well, I’m not sure what happened. Over the years, I kept my interest in ancient cultures, specifically Egypt, but my desire to become an archaeologist faded into wanting to be a writer. Which in turn faded into not know what the heck I wanted to do with my life, and here I am now!
Marilyn Johnson’s new book Lives in Ruins is a love letter to archaeology as a profession. In it, Johnson chronicles her time spent among a variety of archaeologists – ones who work for the military, ones who work on digs in Greece, and ones for CRM (cultural resource management) firms, among others. She not only details the ins-and-outs of their careers, but also the passion and love that goes into the job. Archaeology is not a high paying profession, so those who really stick with it do it simply because they can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives.
Not only was Lives in Ruins a great look into the people behind the profession, but it also highlighted some fascinating aspects from the field that I had either never heard of, or didn’t know much about. I particularly enjoyed reading about how breweries have started recreating “ancient booze” based on the samples archaeologists have taken from pottery*. Johnson’s writing never gets bogged down in technical details or terminology, and the result is a compelling profile of the profession.
Lives in Ruins reminded me of what I used to find so interesting about a career in archaeology, and made me wish I had pursued my childhood dream, even if it was just for a little while. Anyone want to join me on a dig?