Lives in Ruins

Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble


Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble

By Marilyn Johnson
(New York: HarperCollins, 2014), 288 pp., $25.99 (hardcover)
Reviewed by Aren M. Maeir

Kent Flannery, the renowned pre-Columbian archaeologist, long ago opined that “archeology is still the most fun you can have with your pants on.”1 And, in fact, this is the approach that I have taken to the practice of archaeology—striving to conduct the highest quality research, yet not forgetting to have a lot of fun doing it. One of the first things I tell new team members in the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath is that “If archaeology is not fun, there is no reason to do it!”

In this book, Marilyn Johnson, a much-published author, tackles the very interesting question of why archaeology is so tantalizing to so many people throughout the world and, more than that, how archaeologists working in many countries and many cultures have the passionate drive to study the past—at times in very difficult circumstances with little material recognition for their extremely hard work.
To do this, Johnson crisscrossed the world, interviewing a wide range of archaeologists of various kinds, working on a very broad range of topics, approaches and archaeological cultures. She not only manages to portray a very colorful and lively picture of what modern archaeology is today, she, also in a very captivating manner, describes the contagious passion and motivation among its practitioners, despite the many hardships that archaeologists throughout the world endure.

Moving from prehistory to historical archaeology of the New World, from ancient wine to cultural heritage management, from the enmeshment of archaeology and politics in various countries to the media image of archaeologists (and of course the “Indiana Jones” factor), gender issues among archaeologists to the challenges of protecting archaeological sites in war zones, and from the image of prehistoric man to the poor chance of finding a good job for most archaeologists—in each subject and chapter the author immersed herself in the topic and chose an exemplary “witness” to interview. She manages to pull the reader into a very stimulating read on each and every issue.

Although she deals only marginally with the archaeology of the ancient Near East and sites, finds and topics that are the focus of BAR readers’ interests, I nevertheless highly recommend this book—for the lay public, for students and even for die-hard archaeologists—as a way to get an appreciation of the joy, commitment, hardships and vision, of the practice of archaeology. Just as BAR itself, and Indiana Jones as well,* has done so much to share with the public the excitement of archaeology, so the author of this highly readable and enjoyable book has also managed to do it.

Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.



1 K.V. Flannery, “The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for the Archeology of the 1980s,” American Anthropologist 84 (1982), p. 278.

* Aren M. Maeir, “In Praise of Indiana Jones,” BAR, September/October 2008.

Aren M. Maeir is director of the Ackerman Family Bar-Ilan University Expedition to Gath, director of the Minerva Center for the Relations between Israel and Aram in Biblical Times and coeditor of the Israel Exploration Journal.

Related Posts

Jul 17
Review: Excavating the Land of Jesus

By: Matthew J. Grey

May 15
Review: Mount Machaerus

By: Konstantinos Politis

Book cover for Ancient Synagogues Revealed 1981-2022
Mar 20
Review: Ancient Synagogues Revealed 1981–2022

By: James Riley Strange

Image of book cover for 'God: An Anatomy' by Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Mar 6
Review: An Anatomy of God

By: Erin Darby

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Write a Reply or Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend