Not all students would want to spend their summer break analyzing mortuary ceramics, but Zachary Bible is not like all students.
Bible, a senior philosophy and religion double major at Maryville College, soon will leave for eastern Hungary to participate in the Bronze Age Körös Off-Tell Archaeological project.
One of only eight undergraduates nationwide chosen for the six-week research experience for undergraduates sponsored by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut and the National Science Foundation, Bible will begin his summer adventure in Hungary on July 3 and expects to spend a significant amount of time studying a Bronze Age cemetery population.
“From what I understand so far, this research is attempting to understand how technological progress can occur without socioeconomic instability and inequality – and therefore, potentially applicable to our contemporary issues surrounding both social and ecological sustainability,” said Bible. “Any interpretation relies on evidence excavated from the particular prehistoric cemetery or burial site, wherein the various mortuary techniques or practices involved could perhaps reveal aspects of a given culture’s relationship to life, death and other philosophical or religious concerns.”
Bible, who is from Lebanon and a 2015 McClain Christian Academy graduate, said it was his father, Ondis Bible, a mathematics professor at Vol State Community College, who first received an email about the program at the BAKOTA Field School and emailed the application link to him.
“I think it was the multidisciplinary approach of BAKOTA that first piqued my interest. In other words, it is where humanities – the history and philosophy of religion – interacts with and, to an extent, relies on an understanding of the physical sciences – ancient material culture and the natural environment,” he said. “Also, I am a musician, and over the course of being in college, I’ve developed a specific interest in prehistoric music/art and the study of sounds, more specifically – especially how or if sounds and music played a role in the evolution of religion and consciousness.”
That participants were provided room and board, travel expenses and a summer stipend of $500 each week was attractive to Bible, as well.
Weeks filled with activities
According to the program description, Bible will spend the first week of the REU in Szeged, Hungary, where he will receive introductory training, participate in workshops related to academic writing and statistical techniques, learn about the background of the BAKOTA project and establish a connection with his research project and mentor.
The remaining five weeks will be spent in Vészt, Hungary, where he and other participants will carry out the various research projects using archaeological material from BAKOTA project excavations.
Throughout, Bible will live in a small town and learn about life in Hungary, work with an international research team, participate in seminars and workshops taught by experts on archaeological method and theory and the cultural history of Eastern Europe, visit museums and archaeological sites, and plan and complete an independent research project with a faculty mentor.
For his independent research project, Bible has chosen to focus on ceramic stylistic analysis, which will require him to document and compare patterning on mortuary ceramics.
“I chose this project because it focuses on comparative methods and themes such as language/linguistics and art, while being supported by physical/material evidence in the ground,” he said.
REU is good fit
Andrew Irvine, associate professor of philosophy and religion and Bible’s advisor, said he was “delighted” that his advisee has the opportunity for extended travel abroad. Irvine recommended him for the REU and wasn’t surprised about his selection.
“Zach is smart, and his interests are broad, but he is also unembarrassed to admit when he is stumped,” Irvine said. “He hasn’t figured it all out, and he doesn’t pretend that he has. That makes him a real asset in collaborative settings, where it is important to share what you know, but also not pretend you know more than you do. BAKOTA depends on a collaborative model, so I felt I could recommend Zach very highly.
“Plus, Zach’s interests just seem to overlap with BAKOTA’s in many ways,” Irvine continued. “Zach wants to understand religion in terms of what it is to be human in the natural world. So he really likes bringing specific detail – like, for example, what did these people actually do in the way of burial rituals? – together with big picture thinking about what religion does for us. I hope this will be like an intensive case study that helps him sort through his big ideas more knowledgeably and confidently.”
Irvine predicted that the hands-on aspect of the research experience would open up new academic and professional opportunities for his advisee. It also demonstrates the College’s commitment to help students connect their academic interests with careers, he added.
“Zach has the opportunity to learn by doing, how the fragmentary remains of an archeological dig may become evidence for a fuller understanding of the lives of the people who left those fragments behind,” Irvine said. “Of course, learning to do this means more than just gaining a better grasp of the past. It means Zach honing critical thinking skills and deepening his sense of the real, substantive work scholarship can do in the world – like enriching our capacity to analyze and address the ecological challenges of this century.”
REU will have lasting impact
Bible said he plans to integrate his REU into his senior study.
One of the distinctive features of a Maryville education, the senior study requirement calls for students to complete a two-semester research and writing project that is guided by a faculty supervisor. According to the college’s catalog, the senior study undergraduate research and creative expression program “facilitates the scholarship of discovery within the major field and integrates those methods with the educational goals fostered through the Maryville curriculum.”
“My topic as of now is the relationship between ritual or religion and the ‘natural’ environment throughout human evolution, specifically prehistoric or archaic periods,” Bible said. “More so, it is curious as to how or if ancestral-archaic forms of ritual and spirituality can influence the way we think of ecology – and therefore, sustainability – today.”
Similarly, the Maryville College senior said he believes the REU will have a major impact on his life.
“As far as graduate studies or career paths, I think this opportunity to participate in research within a interdisciplinary area will provide a good foundation for any lifeway that is eventually pursued. Whether it be anthropology, philosophy or even studies in sound and music, this project will allow me to cultivate skills and gain knowledge applicable to any of these areas of interest or practice,” he said.