How Revealing Footsteps Can Be

I love unguarded moments, those brief seconds when someone on stage or in front of a camera finally gives way to nervousness and says or does something completely unplanned and unrehearsed, something that just spills out like a stream overtaking its banks. For a moment, we see something that we weren’t meant to, something revealing, something truthful, something charming, and we smile in delight at this most human of connections.

It may sound strange but I look for traces of unguarded moments all the time when I am wandering prehistoric sites. So much of archaeology is the public face of our human ancestors: the carefully planned stone wall, the polished sherd, the delicately chipped edge of a projectile point. But every once in a while archaeologists catch a glimpse of something else, something that has the spark of life. And often it’s where you might least expect it–running along on the ground in the humble indentations of human footprints.

Just last week, the British press carried a wonderful story about the discovery of a Roman child’s footprints in a site in northern England destined to become part of an upgraded A1 highway.

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Eye in the Sky

At first glance, the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay doesn’t seem like much of a subject for archaeologists. The controversial camp, built to detain suspected terrorists after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, seems far too new, far too contemporary for archaeological research. And if that weren’t reason enough to steer clear, Gitmo remains firmly out-of-bounds to nearly everyone, a terra incognita behind barbed wire on an American naval base in Cuba.

But none of this stopped archaeologist Adrian Myers, who is currently finishing off his Ph.D at Stanford, from taking a good hard look at Gitmo and drawing up the first independent public maps of the facility.

Myers has a particular interest in modern internment camps and prisons, and he thinks archaeology can tell us much more about life in those grim barracks and cells than a stack of official government reports peppered with half-truths and omissions.

Read more at Last Word on Nothing.