Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies
by Jordan Jacobs
4 Stars: An Adventurous Read
Paperback: 352 Pages
Publication: October 1, 2012 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Buy It: Amazon | Kindle | B&N | Book Depository | Indie Bound
Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies is about a young girl from California who is given the chance to follow her archeologist uncle to the excavation of an ancient Peruvian temple.
What she doesn’t expect, though, is the legend haunting this ancient site. When important artifacts begin to disappear overnight, Samantha must navigate the disapproving eye of her uncle’s acerbic assistant, the bungling boyishness of her annoying big brother, and the ever-present stories swirling among the locals of the hysterical spirit that wanders through the town late at night. Using her keen sensibility and her knack for mapping the unknown passageways of Chavín de Huántar, Samantha uncovers a mystery far bigger than she could have ever imagined.
For a book about a twelve-year-old girl pursuing her dreams in the field of archeology, I wasn't expecting nearly as detailed and captivating of a book as this turned out to be. Samantha may be a tween, but she's sharp, intelligent, and ambitious. More importantly, she's got guts, a taste for adventure, and perseveres in the face of an unknown enemy. She's an easily relatable character, from her passion for an interest (archaelogy for her) to not being taken seriously for her age. There are times when her age comes through, such as her frustrations in her dealings with Adam and times when she believes that she's superior and knows before despite not having as much experience in the field as the graduate student (Adam). Her flaws round out her character and make her all the more real and relatable.
I love how pieces of Samantha's field notebooks are scattered throughout the book. They give a good preview of the chapters and sum up important information in addition to giving us images to keep in mind. The Spanish phrases used by the natives and others who speak the language lend more authenticity to the book. I chose to take French over Spanish in high school, so I didn't understand what was being said much of the time; however, I was able to piece together the gist of what was going on through the context. Other Spanish translations are provided in Sam's notebooks.
As Samantha soon learns, archaelogy is not as exciting as movies make it out to be. In between findings, there are hours of grueling work spent uncovering artifacts. Nevertheless, she's finally out in the field and is bent on making the most of her time there. Then she learns that the stories about El Loco may not only be a myth and that the site may be in serious danger. The plot takes time to unravel and would have grown old quickly if not for new discoveries, red herrings, and plots hatched by members of the excavation group. These developments build together and climax with Samantha's encounter with El Loco.
I've friends majoring in archaelogy and who tell me all these fascinating stories about what they've learned about various cultures. I enjoyed learning more about the field along with Samantha. This is a book that not only tweens but older teens and adults can enjoy, especially those with a passion for archaelogy.
A copy was provided by the publisher for review.
Just Another Day at the Office
Guest Post by Jordan Jacobs
As an archaeologist, I’ve gotten to work high in the Andes at Chavin de Huantar—crawling through unexplored tunnels full of bats and rubble and scattered human bones. I’ve excavated Crustumerium, just north of Rome, where Bronze Age peoples lie at rest in a sprawling city of the dead. I’ve worked in the United States as well, clearing cemeteries in advance of major construction projects, excavating cliff dwellings, and digging the toilet of a California governor from the wreckage of his earthquake-totalled mansion.
But of course, this sort of adventure is only part of the job.
An archaeologist’s task is to study past cultures through what they’ve left behind. These pieces of evidence—or “artifacts”—can be as big as an Egyptian pyramid or as small as a speck of pollen, stuck to an ancient cooking pot. But the information they contain can be surprising. Archaeologists can use these artifacts to reconstruct how people once lived—from the food they ate, to the way they fought, to the religions that they practiced and their views of the world around them.
The archaeologist’s “typical day” takes a variety of forms. Some work mostly in the field--surveying the land, digging precise excavation units into the earth, looking for patterns, making comparisons, and drawing careful conclusions from whatever pieces of the past still remain. Others work in laboratories, using the tools of science to discover how old an object is, exactly what it’s made of, or precisely where it came from. Still others spend their days in museum storerooms, re-examining the evidence recovered by their predecessors. And some archaeologists work with governments and companies in order to protect sites from destruction through development, looting, neglect, or war.
But archaeology also carries a lot of responsibility. One awkward truth is that excavation destroys sites, meaning that each particular discovery can be made only once. It’s up to the archaeologist to record everything he or she can--otherwise, that information is lost forever. Just as importantly, archaeologists have a responsibility to the people who live nearby the site, or who claim it as their ancestors’.
At its best, archaeology is a little like time travel. Holding an artifact in your hand can make you feel a connection to someone who lived centuries or millennia before. It’s intimate. It’s humbling. Seeing the fingerprint of a potter on the surface of a plain and broken pot is a reminder of the humanity all people share--no matter where, or when, we live.
Jordan Jacobs has loved archaeology for as long as he can remember. His childhood passion for mummies, castles and Indiana Jones led to his participation in his first excavation, at age 13, in California’s Sierra Nevada. After completing a high school archaeology program in the American Southwest, he followed his passion through his education at Stanford, Oxford, and Cambridge.
Since then, Jordan’s research and travel opportunities have taken him to almost fifty countries— from Cambodia’s ancient palaces, to Tunisia’s Roman citadels, to Guatemala’s Mayan heartland and the voodoo villages of Benin. Jordan now works as Senior Specialist at the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.