Colleen and Davide Zori
Season 6 - Episode 607
Colleen and Davide Zori are Baylor faculty members and archaeologists uncovering history in Italy. Dr. Colleen Zori serves as senior lecturer in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core in the Honors College and in the Department of Anthropology, and Dr. Davide Zori serves as associate professor of history and archaeology in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and Department of History. In this Baylor Connections, the Zoris take listeners inside their research through the San Giuliano Archaeological Research Project, which was featured on the Discovery channel Program Expedition Unknown.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and today we are heading to Italy in a way with Colleen and Davide Zori. The Zoris are Baylor faculty members whose work takes them far beyond the classrooms in which they teach. Dr. Colleen Zori serves as senior lecturer in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core in the Honors College and in the Department of Anthropology, focusing research on the interdependence of political and economic change in past societies. Dr. Davide Zori serves as associate professor of history and archeology in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Corps and the Department of History, examining the medieval world with a focus on Vikings in Italy. The Zoris have long conducted research through the San Giuliano Archeological Research Project in Italy. Baylor students spend six weeks at the site, abandoned before 1300 AD, through a summer study abroad program. Their work was featured last fall on an episode of the Discovery Channel program Expedition Unknown, and they're with us today on the program. Colleen And Davide Zori, thanks so much for joining us today.
Davide Zori:Thank you.
Colleen Zori:hanks for having us.
Derek Smith:Well, great to have you here. This is a different kind of topic than we normally have on the show. I'm assuming for you all as you interact with other faculty, is it a topic that people are immediately interested in when you tell them what you do?
Colleen Zori:Frequently people tell us that they wish they were archeologists and we tell them, "Try to do it in your spare time perhaps."
Derek Smith:There you go. Well, that's great. We're excited to dive into this and if you would, would you take us on a little tour to start off? Where would we find the San Giuliano Archeological Research Project and once we get there, what kind of things would we see?
Colleen Zori:Well, we'll start off here in central Italy where Rome is located and you would travel up north along the coastal plains where Rome is located and about 50 kilometers to the north you would take a right and head into the hills of the hinterland. It's a volcanic landscape that is really green and verdant and hilly and sort of intersected by lots of rivers that leave behind plateaus atop which people would've lived.
Davide Zori:In terms of history, the area is really famous for the Etruscan civilization. This is old Etruria and the landscape there really formed the way that these Etruscans are living in the area with large cities dotting especially the coast and then as you progress inland, you have secondary cities emerging. Rome takes over in about 300 BC and you have a sort of depopulation of many of the Etruscan enters as people move closer to the Roman road network. Then in the Middle Ages, many of the plateaus and hilltops that the Etruscan cities were built on are reoccupied and a network of castles emerges in this part of Central Italy.
Derek Smith:As you paint that picture of what took place there, what's the significance to you? What is it that draws you all there?
Colleen Zori:Well, throughout this two millennia of history, so looking at starting around 800 BC up to about 1300 AD, this area was really the epicenter of a lot of important political processes and events. But counterintuitively, we don't know a lot about what happened there because for a lot of these key periods we don't have any texts, and so this is where archeology really excels. We can use the material culture that we recover in these archeological digs to investigate the processes of the coalescence of this Etruscan culture out of a very diverse Iron Age landscape of ethnic groups. We can see how the spread of the Roman Empire impacted it, the arrival of the Germanic tribes that sort of is part of the fall of the Roman Empire, and finally how the power of Rome and the papacy sort of plays out on this dynamic landscape as cities are emerging and futile lords are sort of jostling for power in this really dynamic landscape. The place where we work is ... it's a borderland. It's a place that sort of ... at the margins, it's a contested landscape where the people are coming together from different areas, different cultures, and creating a really vibrant community.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Colleen and Davide Zori and let's zoom out a little bit. Each of your research focuses ... what is it about the work you do here at Baylor that draws you to this?
Colleen Zori:Well, I'm an anthropological archeologist. I apply models from the social sciences to sort of generate hypotheses about past behavior. I then apply a variety of scientific techniques to analyze artifacts, asking questions about what raw materials were people using, how they obtain them, what did they make and how did they make it, and what this can tell us about economies and trade connections.
Davide Zori:I do historical archeology, so I like the combination of texts and archeology. In this region, it can be difficult because we have to look for text beyond the region. Again, this is a black hole in a sense. In the historical period, which makes archeology that much more important for understanding our region of Italy. I look especially at when texts can ... I usually say the three Cs. When they confirm each other, which is interesting. It's a traditional way to do texts and archeological research. When they contradict each other. It's fascinating because we often have examples of that in archeology and history, but probably the most interesting is when they compliment each other. When you have texts that reveal one aspect about society, and then you can get the details from the archeological materials that we excavate in the field. In that sense, we're telling history, but through material culture.
Derek Smith:We're going to talk about the dig, what you find there, what it looks like, what tools you use as we visit with Colleen and Davide Zori. Let's go back to that a little bit, the backstory on this. How did you first become involved with the dig? Again, we're talking about the Saint Giuliano Archeological Research Project.
Davide Zori:Well, I'm half Danish and half Italian, so I've been doing most of my archeological work in Scandinavia, but I always wanted to get to Italy and do an excavation. I've been fascinated by especially the medieval period of Italy. When I got to Baylor, I met some other Italophiles. Alden Smith from the Classics department was already running a study abroad program in Italy. My dean at the time in the Honors College, Tom Hibbs, loves Italy as well, and getting together with them, they suggested we try to start a research driven study abroad program in Italy. Dean Hibbs funded a little research trip for me where I was traveling around in central Italy looking for the perfect site to do an excavation. We found it in this place called Barbarano Romano, which is a small community, about a thousand people that lives, again, like Colleen said, about an hour outside of Rome. It is a marginalized place that has always been both in the past and still remains today a marginalized area. If we return for a moment to what's the significance of the dig, I like to think about the stakeholders in archeology as more than just the research and the scientific information, which Colleen described just a minute ago, but other stakeholders are this local community that we are helping to salvage their cultural traditions, their history. For instance, we're developing a local museum there with them. The interest in tourism has increased in the area since we've been there. This brings tourists there to an area that is economically depressed, so it's something that we're very proud of involving our students in both helping to save cultural heritage, but also the economic development for the town is significant. Even beyond Italy, I think we are proud to spread the information about the Etruscan civilization, for instance, which is not as widely known as we think it perhaps should be. Things like you mentioned Expedition Unknown, we're able to share that through big media and right now we're trying to develop at Baylor an exhibit as part of the Mayborn Museum that would feature our project and, again, feature the student research that we're so happy to be bringing to the field.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Colleen and Davide Zori and as we picture this, I think it's easy for most of us who aren't involved, haven't ever been on a dig to think about the action, the digging, the discovery. Could you tell us a little bit about what goes into a project like this to do it right that maybe most of us wouldn't picture, we wouldn't anticipate?
Davide Zori:Well, I can jump in first. One of the things is I rarely actually get to dig. I love digging, I love excavating. But for me, running a project is so much about logistics and that logistics is year round, applying for permissions to do the excavations, filing reports. In the field I do, I run around talking to Italians, figuring out where the lunches are going to come from, how we're all going to eat dinner. Actually several years running of I've won the award of "the cleanest archeologist" in the field. It's not really meant to be a positive. The students sort of joke around with me that I never get to actually do any real work.
Derek Smith:I follow, yeah.
Colleen Zori:For me, I love the fact that archeology is ... perhaps we could think of it sort of as a parasite science because we really draw on technologies usually developed in other fields besides archeology that have a little bit more money. So the oil industry or the military. This includes things like drones that we use for photographing and mapping. We use x-ray fluorescence machines to basically study ... we can zap artifacts and tell what the chemical composition of things are. We use 3D scanning to create models from everything from structures of chamber tombs all the way down to single artifacts or human bones. Archeology may seem like a dirty, dusty process. It often is, except for Davide, of course. But we are really bringing into play really cutting edge technology and it's exciting to see the way that archeology has been really advancing in that way.
Derek Smith:As you use these tools as you dig, what are you looking for? What are the things that leap out to you that you want to take a look at?
Davide Zori:As Colleen said, we're studying kind of long-term change processes. From about 800 BC to 1300 AD, how the people lived in the landscape, how that changed, how they buried their dead and there's so many shifts that we can study through archeology. We're dealing with from 800 BC to 1300 where the two peaks of habitation that we see is the Etruscans. So they had a city on top of a plateau, and that city is encircled by an Acropolis, a city of the dead. After that city gets depopulated, is re-inhabited in the Middle Ages, a settlement grows up around there. In the Etruscan period, we're looking for chamber tombs, these large house-like tombs that they carved into the volcanic rock. When you enter into them, you go in through a doorway and when you look up, you'll see the slope of the roof that they've carved into the rock. On either side there are two beds where they laid the dead and in the back of the tomb, there's most commonly a niche where they would lay the grave offerings for the dead to bring into the afterlife. If we then progress from the city of the dead that's in Acropolis up until the hilltop or the plateau of San Giuliano, we are still looking for the Etruscan city and that's actually where Colleen is leading an open area excavation.
Colleen Zori:We'll be continuing our search for the Etruscan town, but what we found was that the medieval people seem to have put their defensive castle right on top of the highest point of the plateau, which makes the most sense defensively. What we have there, it's definitely a castle of the type that would've been called castrum or castello in the Latin sources from the Middle Ages, but it's not exactly like what you would think of as sort of a Disney castle or a thing you've seen in a movie. It's sort of deconstructed. There is a moat, it's a dry moat, and a wall that goes around the outside with defensive gates. There's a tower, but it's separate then from a chapel and a feasting hall, all of which are sort of contained within this area. That feasting hall has been a really exciting place to excavate. We found lots of artifacts that give us insight into what people were doing there. We find animal bones that tell us about the meat that they were eating. A lot of it. We find pieces of glass and crystal that tell us they were drinking wine. We find dice and little silver pennies that tell us they were probably gambling and even playing the sort of newly introduced game of chess. We get a lot of insight into the type of things that were taking place there. It was also an imminently military site, so we also find a lot of evidence of horseshoes and bits of tack and nails for the horseshoe, so tell us about their horses. We also have bodkin points, which are long metal iron points that are basically designed for penetrating chain mail armor. This was a functional site, it was a site that was used by the elite people in society, but at the same time it was also a defensive site where even battles may have been fought.
Derek Smith:This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Colleen and Davide Zori from the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core in the Honors College at Baylor, and they're part of the San Giuliano Archeological Research Project that we're talking about on the program today. You are both involved, we're going to talk about students in a minute, but are there other colleagues, faculty members at Baylor who are part of this with you?
Davide Zori:Yeah, absolutely. It all started, as I said before, with Dean Hibbs, former Dean Hibbs and Alden Smith from Classics. Then we got the blessing of Vice Provost for global engagement Jeff Hamilton. Lori Baker, formerly from Anthropology, got involved. Then once I agreed to start the project, then I was looking around for who's the smartest people I know and then I started with my wife.
Derek Smith:Always a good call.
Colleen Zori:Our project is really, truly interdisciplinary as archeological research should be, and so we've incorporated people from many different departments at Baylor into this research. There's, of course, the Honors College where Davide and I are housed and his affiliation with history, my affiliation with anthropology. We also have Dr. Deirdre Fulton from Religion, who is our zoarcheologist, so she analyzes our animal bones. Dr. James Fulton from Geology who helps us to decipher the geology of the region and also carry out some of those chemical analyses that we were talking about. We've also been working with the Mayborn Museum, particularly Trey Crumpton, who's also part of the museum studies program. So he'll assist us with conservation and study and presentation of all of those findings. This year we're fortunate to add three new excellent scholars who will be adding a great deal to our research. We have Joe Ferraro and Katie Benetti from Anthropology who will help run our lab, and then from Art History, Jerolyn Morrison, who's a pottery expert. This really is a Baylor project.
Derek Smith:Very comprehensive. What about students? What role do they play?
Colleen Zori:Well, they really are student researchers, so they're incorporated immediately into our research team. They're part of a study abroad program that fits under this interdisciplinary and international research project. They work directly alongside specialists and professors from Baylor like we've discussed, but also from universities across the US and Europe. In this way they gain a lot of perspective on the sort of diversity of disciplines and scholars who bring these sort of parts in, and they really are creating data. They're being the frontline really in many ways of trying to understand the past and they're active in this process.
Davide Zori:To that I'd add also that in the best way as a study abroad program, these students are also taking themselves out as their typical comfort zones and moving into a small village of about a thousand people, working side by side with people from the village, eating with them in the evening. I think that it really enriches the experience. Yes, we're training the next generation of archeologists, but we're also giving them what I consider a rich cultural experience. Really importantly here too for me is that we're giving something tangible back to the local community in developing the museum and helping them to attract interest in tourism in the area.
Derek Smith:Makes a lot of sense. No, that's great. Very cool as we visit with Davide and Colleen Zori. As we end on the final few minutes of the program, I want to ask you about Expedition Unknown, a pretty cool deal last fall and program on the Discovery Channel that if people want to just Google it or go to Discovery Plus they can find, so how did you get connected? How did they become a part of the story here?
Davide Zori:It's sort of funny. We applied for a grant from the Explorers Club in the Discovery Channel that we got and part of that grant application was actually making a video, which Derek, I think you helped us to set up. Alyssa Edwards, I believe, was helping us to make that video.
Derek Smith:That's right.
Davide Zori:So that turned out pretty well. They saw our material at Expedition Unknown. The production company called Ping Pong saw the video and read our project and they contacted us and they were interested in maybe doing a show. I didn't have a great amount of interest. At first I was going, "I don't know how this is going to go." But in talking to the producers, it was really clear that they wanted to tell a good story and they had a quality at the forefront of their production. Because we've all seen things of dubious quality on Discovery and History Channel, but this was different in my mind. This was sort of another way to do it. We agreed right away there we would follow the archeology and of course they had some interest in creating some action shots, but overall I was very happy to work with them. They funded our project a little bit more, got us involved with a group that does LiDAR surveys, so we were able to, again, apply another new technology to the field that we would not have been able to do without them. I have to say, since finishing the program, we've gotten tons of emails and interest from people around the world saying, "This was sort of neat. I never knew about the Etruscans. Now I know," and they're interested. So we're proud of the work we did with them.
Derek Smith:What were the big questions they asked? As they told the story, was there anything that leaped out to you that they were really looking for?
Davide Zori:Well, like I said, they liked the action shots. If you do watch the program, there's a scene that I pitched to them not knowing what the outcome was going to be. They said, "Isn't there something we can do with Josh Gates where he likes to get into these situations that appear a little bit dicey or dangerous?" I said, "Well, there is an underground sewer system underneath this Etruscan city that we could explore. We could also crawl into some of these previously looted tombs that are kind of claustrophobic." So we did that. We got them inside one of the tombs, and I went in with them there gladly. Now, I have a terrible fear of heights and so I had no intention of going out over this cliff that's a couple hundred feet down to the bottom and you have to repel off of this side to get into this underground sewer system essentially. So I was thinking, "That's great. He can go do that by himself." But they refused to do it without my participation.
Davide Zori:So I spent a day learning how to repel and then ... I mean, it was terrifying. So if you watch this show, the fear in my eyes there is palpable.
Derek Smith:Are you glad you did it?
Davide Zori:Not really. No.
Derek Smith:Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, you could say you've done it now.
Davide Zori:That's right. That's right. Conquering your fears.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, as we wind down here again, people can find that online or Discovery Plus if you just Google Expedition Unknown. Colleen and Davide, what's ahead? What are you most looking forward to? I mean, this isn't a project that I assume just has a nice tidy ending. There's a lot you can continue to find.
Colleen Zori:Absolutely. We'll be back in the summer of 2023, again with Baylor students and our complement of research collaborators. I'll be overseeing the excavation of a chapel that we think is sort of alongside this crypt where we've been finding burials, and then there's more graves outside of that. With the help of some of those technologies, including ground penetrating radar, we're going to be excavating in an area that looks like it has buildings underground that may be that elusive Etruscan town that we've been looking for.
Davide Zori:In the metropolis, among the Etruscan tombs, the end of last season, we came down on a tumulus, which is a grave, but it's carved into the side of the hillside. It's kind of like a step pyramid. It's about two to three layers of steps. We found that just as usual with archeology, finding stuff right at the end of the season, we found at the end of last season, so we're excited to get into this tumulus and see what's inside.
Derek Smith:Well, that's exciting. We'll look forward to that and hopefully finding the city. Hopefully there's some cameras at some point once you see so we can all see what's in there. Look, this has been a fun topic, a lot that I think most of us really have little idea about. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us.
Colleen Zori:Oh, thank you for having us.
Davide Zori:Thanks, Derek.
Derek Smith:Great to have you with us today. Colleen and Davide Zori, our guests today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.