2021 Fall 2021 News

Mark McCoy’s Maps for Time Travelers shows modern archaeology in action

Archaeologist Mark McCoy harnesses an array of data-rich tools to unearth new discoveries, and he is bringing his findings to the public in a fresh way with his award-winning book, Maps for Time Travelers.

For digital age archaeologists like Mark McCoy, hands-on research often means using drones that can map far-flung landmarks in a matter of hours; creating 3D models that reveal stunning structures lost for thousands of years; and deploying scanning systems that reveal sites without lifting a trowel.
McCoy harnesses an array of data-rich tools to unearth new discoveries, and he is bringing his findings to the public in a fresh way. His latest book, Maps for Time Travelers: How Archaeologists Use Technology to Bring Us Closer to the Past (University of California Press, 2020), recently earned the 2021 Popular Book Award from the Society for American Archaeology, who called his approach a “first of its kind.” An associate professor in the Department of Anthropology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, McCoy joins a prestigious list of winners that includes the late Lewis R. Binford, SMU Distinguished Professor of Archaeology, considered one of the most influential archaeologists of the 20th century.

In his new book, Mark McCoy takes a novel approach to explaining modern archaeological practices in action. Photo by Elizabeth Lavin.

Blending fictional storytelling and scholarly research, McCoy’s book taps into readers’ imaginations to show modern archaeological practices in action. It’s engaging and educational, lauded as “a brilliant introduction to the frontiers of archaeology … lucid, entertaining and highly informed in the art and science of geospatial archaeology” in the spring 2021 issue of The Journal of Interdisciplinary History.
McCoy understands the power of a good story. He was hooked by the film exploits of Indiana Jones as a kid growing up in Delaware, but his intense curiosity about history fueled his future. Before he even entered college, he was already fascinated by fieldwork.
“I was very fortunate to have been on my first dig when I was a teenager,” McCoy recalls. “It was at a Boy Scout camp in the Pocono Mountains. The camp was founded on what was an old tannery town built just after the Mexican War. We were just a bunch of kids scraping the ground, but it was a heck of an experience, and it certainly left a great impression on me.”
On his journey from teenage explorer to award-winning researcher, McCoy earned his Ph.D. in 2006 from University of California, Berkeley and soon became a leader in the field of geospatial archaeology with a regional focus on islands of the Pacific. After a stint at the University of Otago in New Zealand, he was recruited by SMU for his interdisciplinary expertise.
“SMU has an established department and a strong reputation in archaeology specifically,” says McCoy. “It was an easy ‘yes’ to SMU.”Reconstructing ancient societies is no easy task, but McCoy is revealing details once lost to time while training a new generation of archaeologists. Three anthropology Ph.D. candidates from SMU are currently working on their own research under his supervision: Adam Johnson and Spencer Lambert in Hawaii and Samantha Lagos in New Zealand. He also advised undergraduate anthropology major Joseph Panuska ’21, recipient of the Edward I. and Peggy C. Fry Award for Academic Excellence in Undergraduate Anthropology, whose senior honors project involved fieldwork in Hawaii.
McCoy keeps the focus of his research on the humanity of both the people he’s learning about and his students.
“The past is populated with real people, and if I can help create for students that kind of empathy that we often lack for each other in the present, then curiosity will follow naturally.”
Chris Kelley is a veteran journalist and founder of The Kelley Group, a Dallas-based strategic communications company, and a fellow at the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity at the Lyle School of Engineering.

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