Course Highlight: ART 401: “Introduction to Archaeology”

Written by
Kirstin Ohrt
May 11, 2023

Professor Holzman’s Spring 2023 ART 401: “Introduction to Archaeology” was a portal to a fascinating realm; through guest speakers, interaction with objects, and demonstrations, Holzman’s experience-driven approach brought the field of archaeology to life – on one occasion transporting students to the ancient past.

Each week students explored topics like trade and exchange, the origins of agriculture, cognitive archaeology (the study of the mind), biblical archaeology (the use of texts), artifacts in their cultural contexts, or and the politics of the past – all within the framework of the history, methodologies, and theories of archaeology. 

“I expected the class to be just a simple overview of archaeology, but it proved to be so much more!” said A&A major Gabriel Chalick ’24, adding “every week was engaging and exciting.” 

Professor Holzman lectures to students, all seated in a round

The course draws students from a range of disciplines and backgrounds. Driven by a personal interest in the topic, Senior Computer Science major Morgan Teman said, “I really wanted to find those once-in-a-lifetime Princeton courses for my final semester,” she said, “and I signed up with a keen, lifelong interest--but no real experience--in archaeology.”  She especially appreciated her cohort’s diverse interests. The way Holzman structured the course allowed Teman “to connect with my fellow students of various majors and backgrounds to investigate and explore new topics together, from an interdisciplinary perspective.” 

The course was as compelling for students with prior knowledge of archaeology. “Although I had experienced archaeology through fieldwork,” said Chalick, “the class was additive and I feel much more prepared for writing on archaeology as a result.”

Professor Holzman noted that, since ART 401 is the required capstone course to the interdisciplinary Archaeology certificate, “teaching it gave me a perspective on the wide range of interests that draw students to the Archaeology certificate, including a range of majors outside of A&A.”


A student holds a brush on a white surface, surrounded by fellow students

Guest speaker Aaron Hershkowitz from the Institute for Advanced Studies teaches students to make squeezes (Photo/Kirstin Ohrt)

Both Teman and Chalick pointed to the guest speakers and special demonstrations as highlights of the course.  Guest speaker Aaron Hershkowitz from the Institute for Advanced Studies taught students to make squeezes (paper impressions used by epigraphers to transcribe inscriptions), which Holzman accompanied with a stone carving demonstration. “Students saw first-hand the kinds of marks tools leave in stone while carving,” said Holzman, “and then saw how making squeezes records these difficult-to-see textures.”

Student chisels into chunk of white marble

A&A Junior Gabriel Chalick tries his hand at stone carving (Photo/Samuel Holzman)

“I especially liked the opportunities with guest speakers.  Instead of only being given a diversity of perspectives in readings we were also able to interact with scholars dealing with different aspects of archaeology and learn from their experiences,” said Chalick. 

“I had no idea that we would get to carve marble in class!” he continued. Teman echoed that these class sessions “made the topics so much more tangible. We had Julia Gearhart bring in boxes of small artifacts and field notes that we got to handle, which added a new dimension of understanding and realness to the lecture. We carved marble with various tools one day, giving us all a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and artistry (and hard work!) that went into creating the sites and artifacts we studied.”

Perhaps the most transformative class session was the final one, which took place in virtual reality. Facilitated by Makerspace Specialist Ariel Ackerly and Head of Stokes Library Ameet Doshi in Princeton University Library Maker’s Space, Holzman demonstrated the Yorescape virtual reality tour Athens Reborn: Acropolis which he helped develop as architectural consultant.

Students wear VR headsets and use pointers

“The VR demonstration was the perfect culmination of the course, as it was engaging (almost too engaging--I didn't want to leave!) and tied together topics from the previous weeks,” said Teman. “It was also incredibly cool that Professor Holzman contributed to its development, so we got to ask him a multitude of questions that we would not have been able to ask anyone else.”  Chalick added, “Interactive activities such as this and experiencing the Parthenon in Virtual Reality made the class all the more enriching.”

“It is standard to consider sites largely from photographs and plans,” said Holzman. “Stepping into them in VR—although not equivalent to the real experience—jolts you into remembering how many other factors need to be considered,” he explained. The experience precipitated a dynamic discussion about cultural heritage and site presentation.

“I was surprised by just how many levels and how much ambiguity there is in archaeology,” said Teman.  “I really enjoyed questioning my own interpretations of different artifacts and sites, and debating them with classmates, like solving a puzzle together.”

In sum, students gained from the course on many levels.   “I would highly recommend this class,” concluded Teman. “The speakers are knowledgeable, the topics are accessible, the multimedia experiences are exciting and unique!” “I thought the class was incredible,” Chalick agreed, adding “a nice surprise was the treats that Professor Holzman would bring to class on occasion: several times we were given Greek desserts as a nice little break in the middle of class!”