John W. Hessler

Explorer, Curator, and GIS Scientist in Washington, D.C.

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When not climbing in the Alps, searching through ruins in Central America, or mountain biking through some jungle, I am the Curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas and a Specialist in Computational Geography & Geographic Information Science (GIS) at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

An avid traveler and mountaineer, I am a contributor to Alpinist Magazine, where I write on the history of mountaineering, cartography, high-altitude archaeology, climate change and glaciology.

The founder and principal investigator at the Topology Lab for Virtual Geographic Environments, working at the interface of GIS, virtual reality and deep learning, we tackle complex theoretical problems in computer vision, 3D modeling, and spatial simulation for cultural heritage preservation and archaeological applications.

The Lab is currently working on a project that applies the theory of Markov Random Fields and Gaussian Curvature analysis to the problem of re-assembling ceramic vessels and reconstructing their shape from digitized fragment assemblies found in archaeological contexts.

Formerly of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, I have participated in archaeological and paleobotantical studies of plants and insects, including a recent investigation of the remains of ancient agave. Especially interested in the ethnobotanical language of the Cahuilla, or Iviluqaletem culture, in the deserts of the southwestern California & Joshua Tree National Park, I am researching the botantical cognates of the polysynthetic languages of the Uto-Aztecan family, like Nahuatl.

I am also fascinated by the practice of cranial deformation and dental modification in the indigenous cultures of the Americas and in the biogeography and natural history of corpse eating insects in archaeological contexts.

The author of more than one hundred books and articles, including the New York Times best-seller, MAP: Exploring the World, my writing and work has been featured in many national media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Discover Magazine, WIRED, the Atlantic’s CITYLAB, the BBC, CBS News and most recently on NPR’s All Things Considered.

I am the author of the new book Collecting for a New World: treasures of the early Americas and I curate the Exploring the Early Americas Gallery at the Library of Congress.

  • Work
    • Library of Congress