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Research in the Trenches
Cassandra Holtmann ’12
Cassandra Holtmann ’12 discusses her project with Associate Dean of the Faculty Dick Fluck at the autumn research fair on Sept. 24.
Sometimes, academic work involves sitting alone in a room pondering deep thoughts and poring over books and data. Other times, it means rolling up your sleeves, picking up a hand tool and working in the trenches.
For Classics major Cassandra Holtmann ’12, a summer of research meant laboring in the hot sun near Florence, Italy, as part of Franklin & Marshall’s archaeological travel course to Poggio Colla. She worked each day from 7 a.m. until mid-afternoon, searching for archaeological evidence of the region’s former Etrucscan (pre-Roman) inhabitants. Using a trowel, Holtmann painstakingly removed dirt, a couple of centimeters at a time, to uncover new layers.
“They are still trying to discover what was on the site,” says Holtmann, who presented her work at the autumn research fair. “It seems to be a religious area. There appears to be some sort of sanctuary, with evidence of an altar and deposits of gold and bronze.”
There is limited information to decipher the history of this site, which was occupied from the 7th to the 2nd century B.C.E. In archaeology, problems often must be pieced together slowly and carefully, such as the broken pottery and strewn weaving instruments collected and catalogued thus far in Poggio Colla.
Aside from digging in the trenches, Holtmann also joined Assistant Professor of Classics Gretchen Meyers in the on-site laboratory and helped her analyze the accumulated evidence.
“What I was actually doing in the lab was measuring some of the implements such as spindle rolls, rochetti and loom weights," Holtmann says. "The textiles themselves don’t survive, because they decay. Instead, you find these implements. By examining them and taking precise measurements, you can reconstruct what was made with them. I was doing a series of measurements to try to generalize about what was woven there.”
Meyers applauds Holtmann’s work in helping us to understand how women may have participated at the site by producing sacred garments. “This is very significant,” Meyers points out, “given that women are usually silent in the archaeological record.”
Holtmann beams as she recounts her summer research adventures. “It was such a positive experience," she says. "One thing I like about F&M is that everyone here is smart and we’re all really involved in classes. This was a nice opportunity to go outside the classroom. There’s such a difference between sitting in class learning about material and actually holding it in your hand.”
Given her personal goal of becoming a professor of classics, Holtmann will surely participate in—and take the lead on—many more exploratory “digs.”