Archaeology’s Footprints in the Modern World

What is the social value of archaeological research to present-day society? Michael Schiffer answers this question with forty-two case studies from a global perspective to demonstrate archaeology’s diverse scientific and humanistic contributions. Drawing on nearly five decades of research, he delivers fascinating yet nontechnical discussions that provide a deeper understanding of what archaeologists do and why they do it.

From reconstructing human evolution and behavior in prehistoric times to providing evidence that complements recorded history or debunks common legends, archaeologists help us understand our human past. They have also played crucial roles in developing techniques essential for the investigation of climate change along with tools for environmental reconstruction. Working for cities, tribes, and federal agencies, archaeologists manage cultural resources and testify in court. In forensic contexts, archaeological expertise enables the gathering of critical evidence. With engaging and lively prose, Archaeology’s Footprints brings to life a full panorama of contributions that have had an impact on modern society. 

Michael Brian Schiffer is a research associate at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. 

Table of Contents:
List of Figures and Tables  
I. Evaluating Myths, Sagas, and Legends  
1. Debunking the “Lost Races” Myth  
2. Did the Norse Beat Columbus to the Americas?  
3. King Solomon’s Mines  
II. Complementing Historical Evidence  
4. The Confederate Submarine, H. L. Hunley  
5. The “Poor” Potter of Yorktown, Virginia  
6. Nuclear Archaeology in the Nevada Desert  
III. Enhancing Cultural Tourism and Heritage Awareness  
7. Mount Vernon and George Washington’s Whiskey Distillery  
8. Kourion, a Roman Town in Cyprus  
9. The World Heritage Site of Stonehenge  
IV. Collaborating with Communities  
10. The Levi Jordan Plantation Project  
11. The Ozette Site and the Makah Indian Nation  
12. Thurstan Shaw and Nigeria’s Enigmatic Bronzes  
V. Pursuing an Activist Agenda  
13. Remembering the Ludlow Massacre  
14. Advocating for Homeless People  
15. Promoting the Electric Car Revival  
VI. Reviving Ancient Technologies  
16. Chipped Stone Scalpels  
17. Raised-Field Agriculture in the Andes  
18. Ancient Pots and Modern Potters in the American Southwest  
VII. Managing Cultural Resources  
19. Federal Agencies and Cultural Resource Management  
20. Tribal Archaeology: The Seminole Indians of Florida  
21. Archaeology in the City of Alexandria, Virginia  
VIII. Participating in Judicial and Diplomatic Processes  
22. California Indians v. United States  
23. Antiquities Acts and the Looting of the GE Mound 
24. The International Antiquities Trade 
IX. Doing Fieldwork in a Forensic Context
25. Solving a Murder in the Midlands of England
26. A Nazi-Era Mass Grave in Ukraine
27. Recovery of Missing American Military Personnel
X. Expanding the Social Sciences
28. The Garbage Project
29. The “Material-Culture Turn” in the Social Sciences
30. Undocumented Migrants Face the Arizona Desert
XI. Contributing to the Physical Sciences and Engineering
31. The Mysterious Pigment: Maya Blue
32. Radiocarbon Dating
33. Nuclear Waste Disposal
XII. Bolstering Biological Sciences
34. Origin of the Domesticated Sunflower
35. The Pygmy Rabbit and Applied Zooarchaeology
36. Microbiota of the Human Gut and Coprolites
XIII. Furnishing Tools for Environmental Sciences
37. Tree-Ring Dating and Dendroclimatology
38. Dating Sunset Crater
39. Mass Extinctions of Animals: The Human Role
XIV. Revealing Our Prehistoric Past
40. In the Beginning
41. From Foragers to Farmers
42. The Urban Revolution
About the Author

Praise and Reviews:

“The list of sources Schiffer has consulted is astonishing. He has analyzed and synthesized the data, methods, and theories therein and presents the results in plain but elegant English with a gentle, wry sense of humor. There are no other books like this.”
—Don D. Fowler, Mamie Kleberg Distinguished Professor of Historic Preservation and Anthropology Emeritus, University of Nevada, Reno

“Schiffer takes the reader on an excursion in critical thinking as he reveals the ‘footprint’ of archaeology on a host of contemporary topics. That archaeology could make any contribution at all to the modern world will pique interest, but the diversity of contributions will make the reader think differently in a more fundamental way; history matters, and the means by which knowledge is gained matters.”
—Steven Simms, author of Traces of Fremont: Society and Rock Art in Ancient Utah

“The book supplies a basis for further research into the topics presented, and the bibliography is very useful. An excellent item for classroom use, the volume should find a home in most libraries. Highly Recommended.”—CHOICE