By Melissa Mitchell Digging, sifting, sorting, sweating. The last two summers have been no Roman holiday for UI student Todd Brenningmeyer, who willingly engaged in all of the above in exchange for a chance to work closely with an international team of archaeologists uncovering information about the political, social and architectural changes in Rome between the third and sixth centuries. A senior from Dongola, Brenningmeyer had no idea when he entered the UI as a freshman that he would leave prepared to pursue a career in archaeology. "I took a few classes my freshman year, but I didn't have any intention of being an archaeologist," he said. That changed after Brenningmeyer enrolled in a survey course taught by Eric Hostetter, a UI professor of classics and art history. "At the end of the class, I went in and talked to him and asked: 'What do you have to do to be an archaeologist?' " Hostetter, who since 1989 has been directing one of Italy's largest digs - on the northeast slope of Palatine Hill in Rome - invited Brenningmeyer to participate in his project to find out firsthand. "I don't hesitate to bring undergraduates if they have the firepower between the ears," said Hostetter. While the work of professional archaeologists and laborers is critical to the success of such excavations, Hostetter is impressed with the contributions students lend to the enterprise. "Students are what makes the dig work - they're the flesh that makes the thing move," Hostetter said. "With workmen, you don't get the same thought put into it that you get with a motivated group of students." And what students get out of the experience in return goes far beyond just a lesson in the basics of archaeology. "Undergraduates who go on a dig of this nature come away as very different people," he said. "People in our society are unused to thinking communally, in terms of team goals. But when you put students from diverse backgrounds in regulated situations like this - from 6 a.m. until evening - by the end of two months, they come away with a sense of team accomplishment that most never had in their lives." Hostetter said he has noticed an even more pronounced difference in how such work affects the female students who sign on to help with the excavation. "In the beginning of the summer, the women may push half a wheelbarrow of dirt, teeter-tottering along the walk with it," he said. "By the end, they often have much more stamina than the big, brave men who try to be so macho about it all. The women's sense of confidence skyrockets and that carries over to other areas of their lives. It's a wonderful, galvanizing and transforming experience." Work at the site involves a great deal of physical labor, but mental muscles also get a workout. While in Rome, the students are encouraged to learn more about the area and its history by visiting churches and monuments, and by spending time in libraries pursuing various research details. After all, Hostetter said, archaeology is as much about seeking, recording and interpreting information as it is about digging. "For every one hour an archaeologist spends in the field, he or she probably spends another 10 in the library reading and writing," he said. Last fall, Brenningmeyer found himself immersed in that less glamorous side of archaeology. He wrote his honor's thesis using unpublished data collected at the Roman site. That's a significant opportunity, Hostettersaid, because Brenningmeyer was able to "base his conclusions on raw data, rather than on someone else's conclusions."