Remote sensing, or geospatial archaeology, is now coming into its own. It began with aerial photography after World War I and now involves everything from ground-penetrating radar to gps, and, most important of all, lidar, aerial surveying with lasers. McCoy is literate in remote-sensing technologies and, refreshingly, has a realistic and critical approach, with no illusions about its uses and limitations. He argues that scientific archaeology and fictional time are both driven by a profound curiosity about the past. He uses the idea of time travel to describe the dimensions of how these approaches can deepen our understanding of the ancient world and, above all, to show how we can know what happened.
The book has four parts. Two chapters in Part I provide a brief discussion of how geospatial archaeology has expanded from being a narrowly defined approach to an all-encompassing one that expands the stories that we can tell about the past. The second chapter points out that archaeology is grounded in the sciences and humanities in ways that are a far cry from the treasure-hunting mantra of generations ago, still a popular stereotype of what archaeologists do. The main concern is to connect with the people of ancient times. Part II is a rapid journey through the beginnings of geospatial archaeology, starting with aerial photography and then moving to satellite imagery. Rich examples of methods and findings abound, among them the Stonehenge landscape, Near Eastern tells, China’s Great Wall, Landsat satellites, buried western Saharan rivers, and even the abortive search for Ubar in Oman. We now have not hundreds of sites but thousands. Turning this knowledge into information about how ancient societies functioned, however, is much harder than merely locating them.
During his lifetime, McCoy expects to see more archaeology than any of his predecessors, thanks to lasers or, more specifically, to lidar, which first came into prominence with the uncovering of the Maya city of Caracol in Belize. Since then, lidar surveys have become relatively commonplace, as has the development of 3-d models using photogrammetry software, notably deployed on drones. Peering underground involves the use of restitivity magnetometers, ground penetrating radar, and other devices. Chapter 5 describes digital mapping, from gis and gps to high-resolution satellite imagery, as well as digital atlases, like the Digital Index of North American Archaeology (http://ux.opencontext.org/archaeology-site-data/). Digital mapping bristles with difficulties; it is far more than just locating sites.
Three chapters examine major topics explored by geospatial research. “Migration, Mobility, and Travel” discusses movement data and how geospatial technology expands the previous available data from a few locations such as the Chaco Canyon roads and Roman road systems. “Food and Farms” focuses on the spatial puzzles involved in decoding people’s ability to survive and thrive. Again, McCoy ranges widely, from Hawaii to the Mediterranean, pointing out that computer modeling using large data sets not only allows us to understand the course of history but also to glance into the future.
Everything comes together in Chapter 9, where McCoy argues that archaeology is as close as we are ever going to come to visiting the past. It is important to scale up geospatial technologies to investigate places and times otherwise overlooked. An extraordinary range of examples lies on these pages. Almost all of them required teamwork, which draws not only from disciplinary specialists but also from local stakeholders. Arising from this collaboration is the critical question of much data should remain hidden from the general public in the interests of preserving a finite resource of archaeological sites.
Maps for Time Travelers is a brilliant introduction to the frontiers of archaeology, exploring innovative and highly significant ways of bringing people closer to the past. Thanks to technology, archaeologists are no longer restricted to mere earthly discovery; they are becoming ever more skillful travelers in time. Lucid, entertaining, and highly informed in the art and science of geospatial archaeology, this short, beautifully written book is an exceptional guide to the interdisciplinary world of today’s archaeology and history.