For a guy who has built his career and staked his reputation on the methodical, thoughtful repatriation of archeological treasures, Jordan Jacobs has plunged rather messily into writing "Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies."
"I didn't have an outline," admits the 33-year-old senior specialist at the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at UC Berkeley, "and I was not very disciplined. And I'm not rigorous about schedule. I wrote disconnected scenes and completely polished them, then let the book sit. When I picked it up, I had to almost start from scratch."
What Jacobs did have was a firm idea: a young girl who wants to be an archeologist, just like he did, 28 years ago.
"I can trace it back to when I was 5 and interested in ancient Egypt," he says. "I saw a King Tut poster in a thrift shop and could not take my eyes off of it. It was beautiful and mysterious. I asked the school librarian for a book about mummies."
Jacobs also asked to go to graveyards, where he could read tombstones. Soon he was reading textbooks on archaeology, books about castles coming to life, ghost stories by John Bellairs, and watching Indiana Jones movies.
"It's seriously uncool for an archeologist to say, but I loved Indiana Jones," he says. "You're supposed to say it's sensationalist, but there's a sense of discovery and adventure -- a mystical feeling."
When Jacobs resumed his work on the first in a series of three middle-grade readers, he
Samantha is a spunky 12-year-old whose wildest dreams come true when her brilliant Uncle Jay -- who suffers a Swiss-cheese attentiveness, with holes in his organizational fabric -- invites her to accompany him on a dig at the ancient temple of Chavin de Huántar in Peru.
Samantha's older brother Evan is part of the travel team, and the siblings' sparring and disputing provide Jacobs with plenty of drama.
"I have sisters, but no, I'm not like Evan," he protests. "In fact after my sisters read the book, they called me and asked, 'Are we Evan?' "
Jacobs modeled the main character after women he knows, especially his wife, Lindsay, with whom he has just had a daughter, 6-month-old Ada.
It's likely that she will influence the sequel, scheduled to be released in October.
"The setting is a secret," Jacobs says, "But Googling the title ("Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen") might lead you down the right trail."
The second book will focus on how archaeology can be used to support or refute history, uniting Jacobs' writing and archeological expertise in the mission that has become central to his life's work.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, passed in 1990, requires any institution receiving federal funds to inventory and return material to Native American tribes.
"We have an enormous collection that falls under this law at the Phoebe Hearst, so I'm on staff to receive the claims, decide if any of the objects fit the category and work with tribes," he explains.
Jacobs says that dealing with human remains is one of the diciest determinations to make. Regulations don't cover all the particulars, but he believes ancestors must be consulted.
"In the 1870s, U.S. soldiers were asked to collect the skulls of Native Americans from fields of battle and send them to what became the Smithsonian. It was wrong -- there were communities that had an interest in what happened to their blood relatives but were not consulted."
The 1990 law has opened a dialogue between museums and native peoples.
"It's not even a question any more, that tribes consult, and that's beneficial," he says.
Professionally, recent violent unrest in Egypt and Syria worries him most.
"There's always a correlation between war and looting of archaeology sites. Unfortunately, there's a market for this sort of thing," he says. "It's not just looting for monetary gain. There were Buddhas in Afghanistan destroyed for ideological ideas. The heritage is what suffers, in addition to the people of the country."
Jacobs hopes his writing will excite the next generation of Indiana Jones fans and combat the loss of the world's priceless treasures with the tool he carries in his memory, if not in his tool kit: a good book.