John W. Hessler

Explorer, Archaeology Curator, and Professor in Baltimore, MD

John W. Hessler

Explorer, Archaeology Curator, and Professor in Baltimore, MD

Read my bat mapping articles

When not climbing in the Alps, searching for rare plants, or mountain biking through some jungle, I am the curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology of the Early Americas at the Library of Congress, and a lecturer at the Rare Book School, at the University of Virginia, teaching the linguistics and ethnobotany of the Mesoamerican Codex.

Formerly of the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, my research has focused on the linguistics & ethnobotany of the Cahuilla, in the deserts of southwestern California & Joshua Tree National Park and on the botanical cognates in the Uto-Aztecan language family. My current investigations are centered on the morphosyntax of Nahuatl botanical terms found in Molina’s Vocabulario el lengua Mexicana y castellana from 1571.

A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, I am the founder of the BIO-COMP Lab (BCL), where our philosophy is to apply advanced mathematics and computation to challenging problems in ethnobiology & biogeography. Our current project centers on mapping the geographic variation and distribution of Rhinolophus bats—thought to be the hosts of SARS-CoV-2.

Exploring the earliest plant collecting from the Americas, I have also participated in archaeobotanical studies of flora, including a recent investigation of ancient agave and mycotrophic plants. My work on the linguistics of Maya and Nahuatl ethnobotany is a featured project at Harvard's Dumbarton Oaks Plant Humanities Initiative.

The author of more than one hundred articles and books, including the New York Times bestseller, MAP: Exploring the World, my work has been featured in many media outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, the BBC, CBS News and NPR’s All Things Considered.

My most recent book, Collecting for a New World, examines the history of the archaeological collections at the Library of Congress. I also write the Excavating Archaeology Series for the Library of Congress’ blog, Worlds Revealed. An avid mountaineer, I am a frequent contributor to Alpinist Magazine, where I write about the history of mountaineering.

When not contemplating what it is like to be bat, I often find myself pondering the linguistic intricacies of botanical classification, wondering about the mysteries of contained in ancient DNA, and marveling at the complexity to be found in Darwin’s tangled bank.