Davide Zori is the Indiana Jones of Baylor University.
Dr. Zori, like the fictional Dr. Jones, is an archeologist and BIC professor who believes that humanity needs archeology to more fully understand history. Though Zori’s daily adventures do not involve Nazis, aliens or the Ark of the Covenant, he does lead a project uncovering tombs, ancient cities and valuable artifacts.
Zori directs The Baylor San Giuliano Archeological Research Project as a principal investigator with a specialization in medieval archeology.
“Part of our job is to continue to tell interesting stories, continue to involve people in it, both students and the local population,” he said.
Zori wants to keep archeology interesting and fun, much like some of the ways the Indiana Jones series portrays its exciting aspects, while simultaneously proving its value to local residents and people all over the world by generating insightful discoveries.
The project takes place near the town of Barbarano Romano, Italy, about 30 miles northwest of Rome. Zori and his team aim to discover remnants of an Etruscan town and to investigate the tombs that surround it. The Etruscans lived in Italy prior to the rise of the Roman Empire.
“I’m really happy they’ve created a project that brings together several different departments at Baylor to collaborate,” Zori said. “We have the honors college, the classics department, the religion department, the art history and art department, and anthropology. I think that’s exactly what I was hoping would come of it.”
Archeology’s collaborative nature encourages the unification of various departments and individuals who can pursue unique goals of discovery that fall under the project’s overarching mission. This project also attracted the interest of other universities that Zori said have sent specialists from around the world. These specialists include a physicist from Germany, a landscape specialist from England, and a pottery specialist from America.
Zori majored in history and anthropology during his undergraduate career at University of Florida and said he chose to pursue archeology because he liked discovery. He wanted to dig a hole and find something from ancient history. He wanted to work with a team outside rather than sitting in a library.
“Nothing feels quite as good as digging through some dirt,” BIC student and two-time project participant Lauren Sides (’19) said. “You don’t come home from class with that feeling.”
Sides echoed Zori’s passion for discovery and hands-on collaboration. A desire to find quantifiable results drives the project. By combining a research project with an anthropology field school worth six credit hours, this project immerses students in a unique archeological experience.
Baylor’s approach, implemented by Zori, places responsibility on the student-archeologists.
“We try to give as much freedom as we can to the students to explore,” Zori said. “I feel like if they take ownership of their product and try to figure out for themselves what’s going on before I tell them what’s going on then the learning is more fun, more creative, and I think more productive too.”
Though the six-week summer project does not offer enough time for aspiring archeologists to completely develop, Zori said that he hopes to create a love, or at least a respect, for archeology through the project.
Immersion in local culture is a key way to cultivate that respect for archeology and fortify understanding of the project. Baylor’s work at San Giuliano particularly impacts the surrounding Italian communities. Zori said that he wanted to maintain positive relations with people living nearby.
“We stayed in the village and ate in the village that’s right next to our archeological site, and spent more time with local Italians,” he said. “I liked how that worked. It added that other element of studying abroad. . . It’s an experience taking yourself out of your comfort zone as an American student and going abroad and really diving into a foreign culture and seeing and appreciating it.”
BIC senior Ryan White (’18), a two-time project participant, said that the community was heavily involved in meals and supportive of the project overall. He enjoyed the cultural engagement that developed naturally from consistently eating alongside various community members and leaders.
“I can’t imagine any other study abroad experience that would give you that,” White said. “With that hard work and everyone experiencing it together, it really makes bonds grow. . . it gives you that opportunity to grow with other people.”
Zori’s understanding of Italian culture and ability to work with locals helped make the project a success, according to Sides. Combine these skills with his professorial ability to teach and train, and the result is a well-rounded project that integrates current and past culture into the daily experience.
Zori spoke about a local named Angelo who has been particularly involved with the project.
“He composed a song about the collaboration between Italy and the United States and Baylor and the village Barbarano,” Zori said. “And on the last line kind of stuck in my mind. It was that these sorts of collaborations fill their world there with color. Which is poetic and nice, but it’s an indication of the kind of experience that I also hope that the students have. Yeah, it’s research, but we’re humans trying to do this job together and trying to learn about the other culture both in the past and also now.”
White said that although many of the students did not completely understand Angelo’s song, everyone felt comradery and warm mutual feelings shared by locals and project members.
Zori aims to combine the Indiana Jones archeological mentality of fortune and glory with an interpersonal and culturally-developed perspective. This approach balances excitement and intellect, fostering an atmosphere of learning and development for everyone involved in the Baylor San Giuliano Archeological Research Project.
Brad Sherrill (’18) is a senior sports, sponsorship, and sales major from Jonesboro, Arkansas.