Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Christina Squillante '09, Anthropology

Grave Secrets: A Study of 18th Century Native American Funerary Customs and the Lost Cemetery of Otstonwakin

  • images-offices-grants-csquilla-jpg
Christina Squillante '09 has always enjoyed a good mystery, whether acting one out on stage or solving one in real life. "I remember the first time I saw Forensic Files on the Discovery Channel and realized that there were real-life Sherlock Holmeses who get paid to solve these mysteries. I toyed with the idea of a career in forensic archaeology after seeing a program on Ötzi the Iceman, but I never had any serious convictions where that was concerned...that is, until I came to F&M.

A student with diverse interests, Squillante started her college career as a theater major, indulging a passion that dates back to the age of 2, when she memorized and performed 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in front of a crowd of spellbound family members.

It wasn't until her sophomore year at Franklin & Marshall that she signed up for her first anthropology class and discovered her second great academic passion. "Theater and anthropology-what a combination," she said. "My family teased me about that, but in due time I would have plenty of opportunity to show them just what one can do with such a major."

Her Hackman mentor, Associate Professor of Anthropology Mary Ann Levine, was willing to help Squillante pursue the forensic goals she had shelved long ago. For her Introduction to Archaeology class, Levine supervised Squillante as she wrote a paper on Ötzi. For her Hackman project, Squillante was given the opportunity to research 18th-century mortuary customs of Contact Native Americans in the Northeastern United States. "After just the first week of my Hackman, I knew I was onto something cool," Squillante said. "Dr. Levine knew that I have an avid interest in historical detective work. This project was right up my alley, so I jumped on the opportunity."

Based on an obscure lead published in a 1930s issue of The Pennsylvania Archaeologist, Squillante's task was to try to locate the present-day location of the cemetery of Madame Montour's 18th-century village, Otstonwakin. This required several visits to the Lycoming County Courthouse to assemble property deed chains. Squillante had to contact the current owners, their neighbors and any others who might have remembered any unusual findings during excavations of the property to be able to pinpoint the cemetery's location with a high degree of certainty. She also assembled a literature survey on Native American mortuary customs in the Northeastern United States and assessed possible analytical methods of interpreting the artifacts collected at the site in 1937.

Levine praised Squillante's research contributions: "Christina is an academic delight. She is an outstanding student who is passionate about research. With her dual interests in theater and archaeology, she embodies the liberal arts."