[Nick Redding] As historic preservationists, we can often fall into only thinking about history through the framework of buildings and sites or even get caught up on buildings from just one era. That’s not the case for our guest today, Dr. Bill Schindler. Bill’s one of the world’s leading experimental archaeologists and an expert on primitive technologies and historic foodways. Join us today as Bill explains how food has driven technological development throughout human history, how we are uniquely positioned in that history, and why we may want to look at ancient foodways to inform how we eat in the future. Hopefully, we won’t make you too hungry because this is PreserveCast.

From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.

[Nick Redding] This is Nick Reading. You’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined today by Dr. Bill Schindler who is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. He is an experimental archaeologist and primitive technologist, and the primary focus of his research at this time is how to use information about ancestral diets and food acquisition, as well as processing, to better inform how we should be feeding ourselves. Lots of cool things to talk to Dr. Schindler about. And also, for those PreserveCast listeners out there who are keeping track, this is our first international interview. We are talking to Dr. Schindler [and] although he’s a professor associated with Washington College, in Chestertown, Maryland, he is currently located in Ireland. So we’re joining him through the magic of Skype all the way from Ireland. So Dr. Schindler, it’s a pleasure to have you on PreserveCast today with us.

[Bill Schindler] It’s a pleasure to be here, Nick.

[NR] So lots to talk about here, but give us a sense for how you got into this line of work. How did you decide you were going to go become a professor of anthropology? And then maybe from there we can kind of jump into all these cool topics about what exactly is experimental archeology and all that good stuff. But how did you become this?

[NR] Sure. I’d be happy to tell you. So, it’s a long story. I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version of it. But I grew up actually in Mammoth County, New Jersey, only a couple of miles from the beach from the Jersey Shore. Not the kind of place you would necessarily think that someone who’s as interested in hunting, and fishing, and trapping, and ancestral ways of life would necessarily grow up. But my father made it a priority to have me out in the woods exploring nature as much as possible. And quite often he drove hours to get to a place for this to happen. But he had me hunting, and fishing, and trapping, and hiking, and camping on a regular basis. And at the same time my mother had me in the kitchen whenever I was home. So I was living, what I thought at the time, were these almost two separate lives or two separate threads in my life. And it wasn’t until much later, which I’m sure we’ll get to later on, that I realized that the two different threads really connected well.

But I suppose what really got me into the archaeology was this need that I had to… connect even more than I was with my food, with my past. It was wonderful to hunt, it was wonderful to camp, it was wonderful to do all these things; but I always wanted to get to the root of it. I always wanted to know: “What was the next step to connect me one more level?” It was great to hunt, it was great to be a part of the process of getting my own food but something just didn’t always sit right with me when I was firing a gun that somebody else had made, so I started to get into archery. And then that led to the next step where I wanted to learn how to make my own bows, and of course, I then had to make my own arrows, and arrowheads. And when I got to the point where I could actually do this – and I found people that, in this world, could actually do these things and there’s a larger community of them than you would imagine – I wanted to not only know how it could have been done. But how were people doing it in the same place that I was thousands of years ago? And I realized that in order to learn that, it was archaeology that would inform me.

[NR] And so you went and got a degree in archaeology. Where did you go to school?

[BS] So I started college at Ohio State. I got recruited to wrestle there straight out of high school. And also on the topic of this conversation – but it is important to the way that my life, I think, ended up turning up for now – I ended up failing out of school. And then a year later – two years later – dropping out of school, both out of Ohio State. I had an eye disease, a degenerative eye disease, called keratoconus. I ended up going legally blind. I had been through, at the time, seven or eight different majors and had no idea what I was going to do. I couldn’t see anything. When I finally came back home after several years, wrestling went great but the school didn’t go so well.

When I came back home after almost a full four years in college, having failed and dropped out, we finally found a doctor that could diagnose me. And we found another one that could finally start to help me and I got back into school. I still at that time didn’t have any real guidance. Didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, I just knew I needed to graduate. And I had been through a lot of different majors that were all sort of what I wanted to do. I was a forestry major. I was a nutrition major. I was all these different things; but I didn’t really realize that archaeology was a real thing that I could spend the rest of my life doing. I just hadn’t been advised in that way. So I ended up graduating from, actually, the College of New Jersey with a double major of History, Secondary [Education], which again was close. I love to teach. I love the past. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. And I went back to college for my Master’s and PhD at Tampa University for Archaeology and Anthropology.

[NR] And so it kind of makes sense with given your background that you kind of fell into this role of experimental archaeology because you like working with your hands and getting to see how these things were done originally. Why don’t you explain for people what experimental archaeology – or I’d be curious to hear how you define – what is experimental archaeology? Or a Primitive Technologist?

[BS] Look, let me start by saying a bit about what we do and then I’ll try to come at a few different definitions because there’s certainly more than one depending on how you interpret it. As you can imagine, on an archaeology site, the things that we pull out of the ground, the artifacts, the further back in time you go the more they are foreign to the sorts of things that we’re used to today. Sometimes more difficult to identify. Or they’re very difficult to understand how they were used, or how they operated, how they were made. And what an experimental archaeologist does is they would actually conduct an experiment. Quite often they would recreate technologies from the past – they could be historic, they could be prehistoric – replicate these technologies and then try to find something out, try to answer these archaeological questions that we had. How was this stone tool made? What kind of function did it have? How well did it perform? How efficient was it? Why was it eventually discarded? Was it a projectile point or was it a knife or was a it a scraper? And how can you tell? My focus is on these really early prehistoric technologies: stone tools, prehistoric ceramics, hide-tanning, forging, hunting, these sorts of things. To better understand, what I found out later on, my main focus was always surrounding food. So an experimental archaeologist would conduct experiments. We’d have a hypothesis, we would have a set list of stages, we would put this experimental process through, and we would replicate, or recreate, these ancient technologies to better understand or interpret the archaeological record. A field archaeologist will get data from the ground and then the next step is to try to make sense of that data. Experimental archaeology is one way out of many ways that we could make sense of that data, interpret what life was like in the past.

[NR] So maybe you could give us an example of one of these things where you said you would have a hypothesis and you go through an experiment and try and figure out. Could you give us an example of how you’ve done that in your own past in your career?

[BS] Well, here’s a good one: a really good friend of mine, an archaeologist by the name of Dr. Tim Messner, he’s an archaeologist professor up at SUNY Potsdam. Several years ago, we were looking at the use of this one particular plant called peltandra virginica, arrow arum. It’s a huge marshland plant. It grows all over the mid-Atlantic region. There was a lot of evidence for this particular plant being used in tremendous amounts in the past, prehistorically by Native Americans in our area. And one of the problems with this plant, however, is it’s highly toxic. It has this protease compound in it. It has these things called raphides, these microscopic needles that have a toxin in them that when you ingest this, it pierces the skin in your throat and releases this protease compound and your throat swells up and you die. So we were trying to figure out how Native Americans in the past actually be taking this plant and rendering it safe to eat and also nutritious. So we spent a ton of time harvesting a lot of these plants and looking at the ethno-historical counts by John Smith and others that documented the Native American use of these things and conducted a range of experiments to better understand how people could have possibly detoxified this plant and what that process was like. And most importantly, for archaeologists, to try to identify if there’s any archaeological signatures to these different processing strategies that we could in the archaeological records. So one of the cool things about this plant is that it has a lot of starch grains in it. Starch gains preserve over time. And what we found is that the different processing technologies left different markers on these starch grains. So you could actually pull starch grains out of several thousand-year-old tools, tell that that not only it was from this particular plant, but you could also get a pretty good idea about how that plant was processed to make it safe.

[NR] And so how did they process it? I mean I’m sitting on the edge of my seat here.

[BS] [laughter] Well, we don’t know the way, but what were able to do is determine there are several different ways. One is through extensive cooking, low-temperature cooking that took several in inground pits in the ground. Another way is to slice it very, very thin and dry it in the sun. And those are two of about four or five different ways to do it. But the cool part and the takeaway from this is that even though those all could be done, they leave a different signature on the starch grain. So if we pull a starch grain off of a prehistoric tool, we could tell that it was cooked in a low temperature, moist environment for a long period of time or if it was dried in the sun. These sorts of things.

[NR] And you are able tell that because you actually did it? Is that –

[BS] Exactly. And we identified what those different markers on the starch grains were.

[NR] And I have to ask. Did you eat it?

[BS] Oh, yes.

[NR] Oh, yes. And you lived to tell the tale so, obviously, you did it right.

[BS] Yes. There were several ways to do it and several of the ways we did it worked very well, yes.

[NR] And no choking?

[BS] No. Not at all. Not at all.

[NR] So, Bill, why is it so important to understand technology that was used in the past? I mean, it is great to understand why, and I suppose, how these Native Americans were able to process this food. But what can that inform us about our modern world? Is there an impact or is it purely historical research?

[BS] There are huge impacts. So there’s a lot of very good reasons we’ve used for a long time to not only justify what we do, but certainly make sense of it. I mean, there’s connecting with the past, connecting with the environment, connecting with ourselves; all of these things are really important reasons. But one of the reasons that – I think I can answer this question in a really good way when I talk about food. One of the reasons that this is so very important to us now – when we look into the world of food – we are in a really bad place. We’ve never been so sick as we are today as a species. We are the sickest species on the planet. We’ve done it to ourselves. And I think that the answers – and I’m not talking like a purely paleo diet sort of thing here – but the answers do lie in the past and let me explain why.

Everything that we are today – how we look, the size of our brains, the size and the way that our guts work, the size of our bodies from a biological sense – but also everything that we are culturally today – has something to do with the way that we’ve transformed our diets over time, which is directly related to technological developments over three and a half million years. So in other words, everything that we are today can be explained or understood or maybe only understood by first starting with understanding this three and a half million-year-long journey that we’ve been on. And it’s a technological journey. Let me try to explain what this means.

Prior to three and a half million years ago, everything that we put into our bodies was solely got, captured, processed – anything – by what we had biologically. And even though we think we’re at the top of the food chain, we are the weakest species on the planet. Our nails are useless. Our muscles are useless. Our teeth are useless. We’re not very fast and our guts are very inefficient compared to other animals on this planet.

[NR] You’re painting a really pretty picture here right now.

[BS] I know, I know, but it’s going to get better.

[NR] Okay.

[BS] The only things that we could eat prior to three and a half million years ago were things that this really, somewhat inefficient primate could have access to; and, for the most part, it was fruits and vegetables. And while we love our fruits and vegetables, they’re not very nutrient-dense, they’re mostly full of water. They’re full of vitamins, they’re full of minerals, certainly; but there’s not a lot there compared to other foods that we accessed later on in our dietary past. So starting three and a half million years ago, we make our first stone tool. And it’s a simple stone tool. It’s literally made by striking two rocks together and creating a sharp edge. But that sharp edge, that flake that takes less than a second to make, transformed our relationship with our environment and transformed our relationship with our food. It is the first time that we used a tool to process food before we even put it into our bodies. And what we see at that time period is we start for the first time putting meat into our bodies. And we’re not hunting, we’re actually scavenging animals that other animals had killed on the African savannah. But we can take this tool and butcher a partially-eaten carcass, take meat back to the elderly and to children, and eat it in the safety of trees and other places. And we see a change in body size and most importantly, a change in brain size.

Then, over time [it would] be about two million years ago, we begin to hunt and we begin to control fire. And when we can hunt one of the things that we do is we can access those animals first. We have first access to the animals. We aren’t scavenging any longer, things that other animals have killed. We killed those animals and we had the best parts available to us right away. And the most nutrient-dense parts of those animals are the guts, the blood, the fat, and the brains and the marrow. These are things that the predators out on the savannah were eating first and leaving the flesh behind, and we could have access to it and we could cook it. And then we’re fermenting, and then we’re doing a ton of other things as time goes on.

So if you look at that trajectory over time, what you see is almost every technology that we invented has something to do with food: acquiring food, processing food, storing food, what have you. And it looks like every one of those things had something to do with nutrient density. Accessing nutrient-dense food and increasing the nutrient density of foods. We start with fruits and vegetables. Then we get to meat. Then we get to organs and fat. And then we get to things like fire and fermentation where we’re increasing the density. And that’s the story of our past right there. It has to do with nutrient density. And if you look at that and then compare that trajectory to how we think about our diets today, it’s completely different. The paradigm has shifted.

[NR] In what way? I mean, what’s the big shift?

[BS] I’m convinced that the way people thought about feeding themselves in the past – and I’m not a big person to say “always” or “never”- but this I think is a pretty close one. I think, I’m convinced that when people thought about how to feed themselves in the past, what they wanted to do was get the most amount of nutrition with the least amount of work. Right, that makes sense. Today it’s the exact opposite. We want to eat all day and not get fat. I mean, that literally is when you think about – if you think about it, when we make a decision about how to feed ourselves, we love to eat. It’s a social thing. We eat all the time. We have snacks. And we do not want to get fat, so we actually seek out nutrient-free foods. The packaging in the grocery stores even support this.

There was a study done a few years ago in modern American grocery stores and something like 80 percent of the packaged food in a modern American grocery store boasts about what it doesn’t have in it. Low-calorie, low-fat, gluten-free, sugar-free. Now I’m not saying we should have these things in our diet. I don’t think many of these things we shouldn’t. But the way, the paradigm with how we think about feeding ourselves is the exact opposite of the way that it’s been for almost the entirety of our existence.

[NR] You’re painting a picture really vividly, and you said it was going to be a good answer and it was a fantastic answer in that this is a perfect way in which the past sort of illuminates, perhaps, problems with the current situation or, perhaps, even the future. I mean, are you sort of making that next jump then? Or the suggestion that we’re seeing physiological changes or challenges because of this paradigm shift in the way that we perceive and evaluate food?

[BS] Sure. So I think first off, to start to answer your question, I think the first thing we need to do is understand this context. This should be the place that we start having a conversation from. If we understand how we got here, what it took to get here, to what we are today. And then from that point evaluate what we need to do to move forward to address issues of diet and health and sustainability and human-environmental relationships and all these sorts of things – and healthcare and medicine and all this – we first need to get back to the beginning and understand. “Okay, what was it that built us to what we are today?” Because I don’t think we’re at that point. Do I see changes? Sure. I mean even things like – we have never had such a nutrient-free dietary culture on the planet and we’ve also never experienced the obesity issues that we have today. I mean, the fact that we can even have obesity with malnourishment in the same person completely supports everything I’ve just said.

[NR] Yeah, that’s –

[BS] It’s almost impossible to do. If somebody told you 20,000 years ago that that was going to be the case, nobody would believe it. It would have been impossible 20,000 years ago. We work hard to make that happen.

[NR] [laughter] This has been really fascinating, really illuminating. Why don’t we take a quick break right here? When we come back let’s talk a little bit about some of the things that we can learn from the past and, perhaps, ways in which we can use some of these historic food ways to improve upon and not end up with an obese but malnourished world. And we’ll do that right here on PreserveCast when we’re back.

And now it’s time for a Preservation Explanation

[Stephen Israel] As mentioned earlier, part of Bill’s work involves experimental archaeology. That means recreating the techniques and methods used by historical people as accurately as possible in order to test out theories of how they lived their lives. It’s learning history through doing. While Bill’s work with foodways is amazing, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite cases of experimental archaeology in action.

One of the most famous instances of this learning and testing by doing has to be the Kon-Tiki Voyage. In 1947 a Norwegian adventurer named Thor Heyerdahl set out to prove the feasibility of a balsawood raft made in the traditional pre-Columbian style making the trip from Peru to the Polynesian Islands. This was part of a larger theory that settlement of the Polynesian Islands ran east to west from South America and not west to east as is still the accepted model today. After a harrowing 101-day trip that was the subject of a book and an Oscar award-winning documentary, Thor and his crew did arrive at the Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia and succeeded in proving the theory was possible, but still not necessarily likely.

In the years since Heyerdahl’s journey, there have been a number of well-documented voyages by Polynesian navigators using traditional methods that seem to support the west-to-east theory. Notably, the Hokule’a canoe traveled over 2,500 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti with only the night sky and ocean swells as tools to navigate. The navigator of that trip, affectionately known as Papa Mau, was able to find land based only on feeling the angles of ocean swells hit the side of the canoe. This voyage combined with linguistic and DNA evidence continues to support the west-east migration theory. But the idea of testing by doing that Heyerdahl employed continues to be used in many different areas to this day. From attempts to recreate the movement of stones to build Stonehenge to long-term projects testing out the lifestyle of pre-Columbian Native Americans, experimental archaeology has a proven track record of demonstrating how human beings have interacted with the world around them: the way they lived their lives, traveled, and built their homes. I don’t want to take up your time when there’s a real expert back on PreserveCast.

[Nick Redding] Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast you’ve thought of a question that you have for us or maybe one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an e-mail to and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.

[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined today by Dr. Bill Schindler and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Archaeology at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. He is currently overseas in Ireland and we’re talking to him about all things historic: foodways, experimental archaeology, primitive technology. And Bill, when we were talking last, before the break, you really kind of drilled home this point about how weird things are getting and that you can have both obesity and malnourished in the same human at the same time, which is just sort of a strange paradox. You’ve painted the picture that perhaps things were a little bit healthier or at least sort of oriented correctly in the past. Are there foodways or methods or traditions that we could take from the prehistoric or even the historic period to inform our lives today? Are there things that we could be doing better? I mean, should we be going out and butchering with stone tools? Is that the way to do it? I mean, what are you suggesting here, I guess?

[BS] I think there’s a lot we can learn from the past and I think there’s a lot of people that would agree with me because a lot of the trends now are pushing in that direction. Things like the paleo diet, for instance. There’s a new book in the U.K. called Stop Eating for the Winter, where they’re looking at the way hunters and gatherers used to potentially store up carbohydrate-rich resources in their bodies to make it through the winter and that we shouldn’t be doing these things any longer because these carbohydrate-rich foods are now available all year long. There’s a lot of different ways of doing this. The focus of my work now, the reason that I’m here on this sabbatical in Ireland, and even the focus of – we can talk about it in a little while – the Eastern Shore Food Lab, which they’re building at Washington College, is looking into the past to get at these answers. But I think the biggest lesson that we can take from the past is if we pay attention to this idea of nutrient density.

And let me give you one more example before we move on. I kind of painted a picture of – it was a very brief picture – of three-and-a-half million years of our dietary past. But one of the things that we’ve done over time is we’ve developed technologies that allowed us to access nutrient-dense foods and increase the nutrient density or availability of nutrients in the foods that we’re eating. That’s what these technologies have done. Really cool but strange paradox in all of this is if you look at the most calorie-expensive organ in our body, our brains, over time as we hit these different technological milestones, our brain is increasing in size. So we’re doing something right, right? I mean we’re getting more quality, amazing food into our bodies. Our bodies are growing and our brains are growing as well. But the crazy thing is that everything that we have biologically in our bodies that allow us to access food both outside and inside of our bodies and turn that food into nutrition that we can use as fuel, is getting smaller. Our teeth are getting smaller over time, and our guts are shrinking. So the very part of our body that’s taking this food that we’re putting into our bodies and transforming it into fueling our bodies is getting smaller. And it’s almost 60 percent the size of what it would be in a similar sized primate. And the reason this can happen is because we are processing food outside of our bodies. We’re doing it with stone tools, we’re doing it with fire, we’re doing it with ceramics, we’re doing it with cooking, we’re doing it with fermenting, we’re doing it with all these different things. And now it’s the mainstay of what we do. I mean, we turn on a blender, we use the food processor, we use the stove, we use the microwave, we use all these things all the time. Just like every other animal on the planet, any type of food processing takes place inside their body. We’re doing it outside of our body. So one of the lessons we can take from the past is: the reason we are biologically the way that we are is because we developed technologies that focused on nutrient density. The technologies and the food processing industry today do the exact opposite. They don’t care about nutrient density. They don’t care about nutrition. They care about things like shelf life, how can things ship very far without them getting bruised or ruined, how can we grow bigger apples or bigger peaches. And almost every one of those things is at the expense of the nutrients in the food. So one of the very first things we need to do without worrying about anything else is we need to cook at home. When you cook at home you bypass that entire system.

The other cool thing about when we do cook at home and learn that knowledge again is we are taking a lot of the power away from these major food processing companies because right now, the ball’s in their court. They own all the knowledge. We’ve taken the home cook and turned them into people in a lab coat behind a hidden wall. They’re doing these things, and quite often, many cases now, they require a degree to even do these things. And that takes the power away from the family, right? That takes the power away from the person at home that’s trying to feed their family. And we no longer know how these foods are made. And one of the drawbacks from that, the problems with it is: we’re condensing completely different foods into the same category and we can’t even have a real conversation about food because of that.

For example, we have the same term for the sandwich bread that’s in the package with 42 ingredients on the shelf and that long-fermented sourdough bread with 3 ingredients that are completely different foods. We call them both bread. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. We do the same thing with milk. You know, grass-fed cow, raw milk, full-fat thing that’s coming out of a cow is a completely different food than pasteurized skim milk that comes out of a carton on the grocery store shelves. Not even in the same category. And that’s because somebody else is doing all this. And then it comes down to us with the nutritionist or doctor’s recommendation.

[NR] So what are you doing -? Particularly I know you’ve mentioned this idea, the Eastern Shore Food Lab, and it’s come up in some of the materials that you’ve provided us. What is the Eastern Shore Food Lab? Is it going to attempt to try and address some of those challenges?

[BS] The Eastern Shore Food Lab is – we’re building it at Washington College. It’s going to launch the end of next summer. It’s truly interdisciplinary. Every major on campus will be involved in some form so we’re hitting it from all angles. It’s going to be focused on research. It’s going to be focused on teaching. It’s going to be focused on food production. And we’re studying and experimenting with sustainable food systems, mostly focused on the Eastern Shore foodshed. That’s this primary context. And we’re researching the resources unique to this region based on things like weather, climate, soil chemistry, and microbiology, etc. And most importantly, fusing these historic and prehistoric foodways with modern technologies. The whole purpose is to re-envision our food system. Everything from how we define food to how we grow and prepare it, and the idea here is that I do think there’s a lot of really important lessons we can learn from the past.

Biologically, we are the same creatures as we’ve been for 300,000 years. Modern-day homo sapiens appeared 300,000 years ago. Biologically, we’re essentially the same. In other words, we need the same things in our bodies to be healthy as we did 300,000 years ago and our diets are the complete opposite. However, what I’m not trying to escape from or what is completely apparent to us is that culturally we’re very different. So we can’t adopt the same exact diet as we had 300,000 years ago for a lot of different reasons.

Everything from the fact that we need to bring kids to soccer practice, and we probably have at least two jobs in the household, and different access to resources and knowledge, and all these sorts of things. As well as different expectations of taste, and texture, and flavor, and smells in our food. So the focus of what we’re trying to do is capture and understand these prehistoric and historic technologies that were focused on nutrient density, and find ways to fuse them with modern culinary techniques, things that modern chefs and other food producers are doing. And find some sort of a central place to create something that makes sense, and is meaningful and relevant in the modern-day Western world.

[NR] Which is really exciting, and also for those of us here in Maryland, pretty exciting that it’s going to be taking place here on our Eastern Shore. And that opens up in August of 2018, is that the goal?

[BS] Yeah. August or September of next summer yes. And if you’re interested we do have –  we are in the midst of doing all sorts of work so we do have a website up with some information and it’s at So WASHUCollege for Washington College and then Eastern Shore Food Lab for the ESFL. If you put in Eastern Shore Food Lab in Google you can find it.

As well as if you’re interested – so this year my sabbatical work is to lay a lot of the groundwork and foundation for the work that we’re going to be doing at the Eastern Shore Food Lab. So I’ve paired up with University College Dublin, who has one of the world’s leading experimental archaeology graduate programs, as well as Odaios Food, which is a very forward-thinking food producer and supplier in Ireland. And we are spending the year working with forgers and top Michelin star chefs all around Europe. Hunters and fishermen and seaweed forgers and all sorts of amazing people doing amazing things with food working to begin that conversation and the fusion. And if you’re interested with following along with that project that’s at and there is information on the project as well as a blog that can keep you up to date with what we’re doing here.

[NR] And in the past, you’ve also done some work with NatGeo?

[BS] That laid some of the groundwork and the foundation that we’re doing here. So that was called The Great Human Race. It was a ten episode series where myself and a woman named Cat Bigney co-stared in the series and the idea was over 10 episodes we were going to retrace the steps of our ancestors beginning at two and half million years ago. And in each episode we were in a different location in the world. We started in Tanzenia where the cradle of civilization really took place anyhow at two and a half million years ago. And we ended at 5,000 years ago in Oregon and we hit 10 places in between. And at each location we were recreating a specific time period that was very important to our past. Mostly it had to do with technology, or a suite of technologies, that was developed. And in each location, we had to live for about eight days at a time using only those technologies that our ancestors had at that particular time and place.

[NR] So if people listening to this are really into this and want to dive into all things Doctor Bill Schindler they can probably go stream that on NatGeo on demand or something like that and catch that series and binge it now?

[BS] Yeah, so you can – I know it’s a lot of information on the NatGeo website if you look up The Great Human Race. I know it’s available on Amazon and I’m pretty sure there are a few other locations, Netflix or something, that you can find it.

[NR] Perfect. Well, before we leave you today after what has been really a illuminating discussion and, perhaps, the first of several – particularly once you get back to Maryland maybe we can have you in studio or maybe we can come out and visit the Food Lab. But the question that we ask every person before they depart here on PreserveCast is: what is their favorite historic site, project, or place that they’ve ever had the chance to work on. I know its a tough question but do you have one?

[BS] I’m sure this interview has probably been a little different than most. I think my answer is probably going to be a little different than most of what you’ve had. It’s not going to be traditional archaeology site that I’m referencing here but it’s going to be one of the episodes on The Great Human Race that really transformed the way that I looked at the world being able to literally – I know it was only for a period of eight days – but live all of the different major time periods of our past was ground-breaking, monumental opportunity for me. But one of those particular episodes took place in the Republic of Georgia and it was set about 40,000 years ago, the Upper Paleolithic, and we had the opportunity to recreate composite points, blatant core composite points, embedded in bone with high glue and pine pitch and ant ladles and all. And I got to hunt a wild boar with a weapon system we made completely from scratch with stone tools. That showed me first hand, in a visceral way, up front, the power of these technologies that our ancestors developed even tens of thousands of years ago. So I’d have to say it was that.

[NR] That is by far the most unique answer we’ve received to that question but we would expect nothing less. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Bill Schindler it’s been a real pleasure, it’s been illuminating, it’s been exciting, I want to go out and watch the series. I want to visit the Food Lab and I want to start processing my own food. So you’ve had an impact in me and, hopefully, you’ve had an impact on the rest of our listeners. Thanks for all your good work and enjoy the rest of your time overseas.

[BS] Thank you so much.


You don’t need to open a history book to find us and available online from iTunes and their Google Play Store as well as our website: This is PreserveCast.

This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.

This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Ben and Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website:, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.

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Show Notes

Bill and his unique expertise are featured on National Geographic’s The Great Human Race. The premise of the series is this: “Six million years ago our ancestors began to walk upright then left the trees and ventured out into the wild African savanna. For millions of years we would adapt, strengthen, and spread across the planet’s harshest terrains. We withstood droughts and ice ages to not only survive, but to become the dominant species on Earth. Could we do it again?”