About Michael Shanks

Archaeologist – Faculty at Stanford University

Home page at Stanford – [Link]


My special interest in ancient Greece and Rome is the basis for my fascination with all manner of archaeological themes – the history of art and design, long term patterns in history, how societies change, technology and innovation, and heritage, a word that points to our current and somewhat overwhelming concern with what we have inherited from the past.

I have researched the design of beer cans as well as ancient Greek perfume jars, prehistoric landscapes and ancient cityscapes – the great stone megalithic monuments of Atlantic Europe, the city states of the ancient Greek world in the Mediterranean. I have advised the Mayor of Rotterdam on cultural policy, written a design column for Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in the Netherlands, founded and directed the Revs Program at Stanford – promoting the study of the history of the automobile as a key component of contemporary car design. With Jeffrey Schnapp and Henry Lowood I directed Stanford Humanities Lab – a project directed at the future of learning.

And I do what most people associate with archaeology – dig up the past – as part of the team excavating the Roman town of Binchester in the rolling hills of the English border with Scotland – the place that Ptolemy, the ancient geographer, called VINOVIUM (“On the wine road”).

What holds all this together? To be human is to be immersed in the world of things; we are what we make and use. The magical presence of the past, in its entropy and decay, makes us who we are. And archaeologists don’t discover the past – they work on what remains.

We are all archaeologists now – fascinated by what is left of the past, our own memories and experiences, recent times as much as the ruins of ancient civilizations – working on what remains, caring about the past with a view to the present and the future.

Above all, perhaps, I have enjoyed a renewed childhood with my children Molly and Ben, who forever remind me of how to be fascinated by the most mundane of things.


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