John W. Hessler

Explorer, curator, and Linguist in Washington, D.C.

Read my latest article....

When not climbing in the Alps, mountain biking through some jungle, or searching through ruins in Central America, 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 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

My current research focuses on the linguistics of the ethnobotany of the ancient Maya and Nahua and on traditional plant classification schemes in the Amazon. I am also researching the ethnobotanical language of the Cahuilla, or Iviluqaletem culture, in the deserts of the southwestern California and botantical cognates of the polysynthetic languages of the Uto-Aztecan family.

I have participated in many archaeological and paleobotantical studies of plants, including a recent investigation of the remains of ancient agave. Formerly of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, I am also interested the structure of ancient DNA, in the practice of cranial & dental modification in indigenous American cultures, and in the biogeography 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.

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

I am a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London, and the author of the forthcoming book, Collecting for a New World, which will be published in the UK and US in the Fall of 2019. I curate the Exploring the Early Americas Gallery at the Library of Congress.

  • Work
    • Library of Congress