Baylor team finds ancient Italian woman in archaeology mission

Dr. Davide and Colleen Zori discover the 3000 year old dead woman in collaboration with the local village. This discovered made Italian headlines and granted Baylor an exhibit in the local museum.

By Sarah Asinof | Page One Editor

A 3,000 year old woman covered in ancient artifacts was an unexpected discovery for a team of 20 Baylor students and professors who thought they would be recovering looted chamber tombs on a study abroad trip in Italy. Their discovery made headlines in Italy and granted them a spot in the town’s museum.

Dr. Davide and Colleen Zori are well known in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core (BIC) for being a power couple through their love for archeology. They, along with a team of 20 students and professors, went to San Giuliano for the third time this past summer with the goal of continuing to recover a castle and ancient tombs.

The research project, which is known as The San Giuliano Archaeological Research Project (SCARP), was created by the Zoris with the assistance of Dr. Lori Baker, associate professor of anthropology & vice provost for strategic initiatives, collaboration and leadership development, Dr. James Fulton, professor in the department of geosciences, Dr. Deirdre Fulton, assistant professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, and Baylor students. They also collaborated with researchers from universities such as Anderson University, Santa Clara University and Oxford University.

“In our surveys, we saw several looted tombs. There was a certain area where the hill dips down, and so we started looking around there and using some of the local knowledge of the village to say ‘where is the most likely place where these tombs could be,’” Davide Zori said. “It was a combination of collaborations with the local village, our surveys and our work the past two years. We wouldn’t have been able to know where to look without the past two years.”

Once they discovered the woman, the team was able to use the artifacts to help them learn more about her and what her life looked like 3,000 years ago. Firstly, she was probably one of the first women of the Etruscan time period, around 800 B.C. More significantly, she was buried with 13 complete ceramic vessels, bowls, glasses, two cups, a tri-lobed jar of refined clay, a brown hemispherical cup with two handles and a large bowl, bronze fibulae and amber.

“We assume she was of pretty high status. She is buried with a lot of objects. That level of investment is significant because we assume she possessed those in life, which kind of set her above,” Davide Zori said. “The way she is representing herself — or the way people that buried her are representing her, because you can’t bury yourself — it is possible she had conversations about what she wanted.”

She embodies cultural aspects from the Greek Etruscans, such as her jewelry and the way she was buried. More significantly, it reveals the level of trade at that time period that historians hadn’t been able to prove yet.

“Some of the connections that you can read or find, like her fibulae — what is on there is amber. It doesn’t come from Italy. It comes from the Baltic Sea which shows the trade connections already in this period,” Davide Zori said. “So 3,000 years ago, these trade connections between the Italy and the Baltic are pretty far, and it is resulting in her wearing this amber, which is expensive. It shows how these two places are merging together. Through her representation, it demonstrates that Europe was very interconnected.”

While Baylor is centralized in Texas, it has made a large impression in Italy with this particular discovery — so much so that Baylor has its own exhibit in the local museum.

“Everything we find goes to the museum in Barbarano Romano; the findings last year were so impressive to them and to the Italian people that they are going to give this Baylor project a part of the museum,” Davide Zori said. “We have a really good collaboration with this local village, we eat together … we live side by side with them. On a personal level, I have really enjoyed doing that with them.”

This study abroad experience has not only been an opportunity to grow close in partnership with the Italian village, but it was also an opportunity for Baylor students to grow in experience with archeology — some of them returning after their first experience. Anna Catherine Gibbs, a secondary social studies education major in BIC has gone on the trip the past two years.

“This trip is continually rewarding and unparalleled in cultural immersion and real-world experience. This trip allows amateur archaeologists to spend nine hours a day, five days a week in an active archaeological excavation contributing and learning while being given real responsibility that you have to take ownership of in order to be a part of the team,” Gibbs said. “Any new archaeology project is ground-breaking, because quite simply, it’s never been seen before. Even playing a small role in this is incredibly exciting. Besides being given responsibility in both the field work and the data collection, your experience with the locals also evolves dramatically.”

As an amateur archaeologist and student, Gibbs was overwhelmingly excited to be a part of a huge discovery.

She said in the midst of continuous discoveries, some things become a given — like finding iron nails or scattered bone fragments. The discovery of the 3,000-year-old woman was something nobody was expecting and changed the face of the project, she said. She said getting to hold things like ancient bronze fibulae is kind of surreal because people can hardly wrap your brain around the fact that this artifact was once worn by a woman before the Romans, before Jesus, before Christopher Columbus or any number of historical events.

While this has been a successful mission, Dr. Lori Baker and the rest of the team hope they can broaden their resources and allow all parts of the Baylor family to join the mission.

“My hope is that we can open the experience to not just our students, but also to our alumni. It would be a tremendous experience for our students and faculty to work alongside our alumni in these efforts, learning from one another and seeing the world through different eyes with different levels of world understanding,” Baker said.

If you are interested in joining the team for summer 2019, contact Davide Zori at