Archeology for All ECU Alum Works to Bring Ancient Artifacts to the Visually Impaired

In the age of the Internet when almost any image can be found in a matter of seconds, what if you had to rely on someone else to tell you what an interesting artifact sitting in front of you looked like? East Carolina University alumna Jessie Rassau (Class of 2015) has been working to break down the conventional thinking on who museums serve in her work as a graduate student in Florida State University’s Masters in Museum and Cultural Heritage Studies program.

Blending a few of her passions, in the spring of 2017 Rassau created an activity day for visually-impaired children in Tallahassee, Florida, centered around the artifacts discovered in the Etruscan archeological site of Cetamura in Italy’s Chianti district. Rassau’s mentor at FSU, Dr. Nancy de Grummond, has served as the director of excavations at Cetamura for around 30 years and has recently researched ways to bring archeology to the visually impaired.

A Google Maps view of the location of the archeological site of Cetamura del Chianti, Italy.

The development of the visually impaired activity day began when Rassau traveled to Cetamura to assist de Grummond by documenting around 300 artifacts from the site and arranging them for “Wells of Wonder: New Discoveries at Cetamura del Chianti,” a new exhibit that opened at the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, Italy, on June 9, 2017.

Images from "Wells of Wonder: New Discoveries at Cetamura del Chianti,” at the National Archaeological Museum in Florence. Photos contributed by Jessie Rassau, pictured top left and bottom right.

Rassau and de Grummond wanted to bring the story of Cetamura back to the United States for the “Lighting the Way to Archaeology” outreach event this spring at the FSU Museum of Fine Arts. However, because the artifacts were discovered in Italy none of the pieces could be removed from the county. To solve that issue, they used 3D printing to make models of a collection of the artifacts that were shipped back to FSU to be put on display. Along with those recreated artifacts, Rassau created a collection of hands-on activities to further stimulate the children’s interest in the subject.

Rassau helps children interact with the history of Cetamura during the "Lighting the Way to Archaeology” outreach event this spring at the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts.

“We did all kinds of different activities like weaving and grape smashing — things that were related, educationally, to Cetamura but also things that would work for these children as well,” Rassau said. “In the past I worked with children with disabilities at Rocking Horse Ranch outside Greenville, and this also connected my background in classics so it was a great connection of my backgrounds.”

Rassau said the activity day was a big success, with children from the Lighthouse Big Bang Foundation — many of whom were dealing with multiple disabilities — engaging with the artifacts and stories of Cetamura. In addition to grape smashing and weaving, other activities include the use of tactile maps for the children to feel where Cetamura is and archeological dig boxes. Rassau especially remembered one young girl’s experiences during the day.

“She was probably 13 and nearly or completely blind,” Rassau said. “She was having a hard time with the weaving and mashing of grapes because they were slippery she couldn’t get her hands to do that, so I wanted to do something for her to do in the second half of the day. I had created this well out of a trash can and bucket of water to teach the kids they couldn’t just turn on the faucet in Cetamura… and I think we stood there for about 30 minutes because she just loved pulling up the water.”

Rassau helps a young girl dump a pail of water from the improvised well at the "Lighting the Way to Archaeology" activity day.

In the future, Rassau wants to continue to create interactive museum experiences so that anyone who walks into a museum can interact with the history or cultures on display.

“I would love to be a museum curator of any type of museum really,” she said. “I love the classics so I would love to have a museum that focuses on that, but also incorporating interactive activities, educational programs, and the digital components that can make museums more interactive.”

Jessie Rassau is a native of Greenville, NC, and majored in classical civilizations with a minor in business administration, and was a member of the Honors College at ECU.

Created By
Cole Dittmer
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Photos contributed by Jessie Rassau with the exception of Google Maps image. 

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