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The Daily Wildcat

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Olive his life has been leading up to this: UA professor to have olive named after him


After over 30 years of work in Italian archeology and a lifetime of accomplishments, David Soren, a regent professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, will receive possibly his most unique honor yet: A new strain of olive is set to be named after him. 

Not yet officially cultivated, the olive is expected to hit markets in three-to-five years. 

The idea came from the the townspeople in the Italian region of Umbria, where Soren has spent much of his career. The Italian government made the decision official with a formal ceremony.

“In an agrarian community, it’s a very nice honor because they think agriculturally,” Soren said.

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Throughout his career as an archaeologist, Soren has cultivated good relations with the people of Umbria. It’s a part of the secret to his success in the region.

“Much of what we do is done with just a handshake and trust,” Soren said.

UA Anthropology professor David Soren with his canine companion, Lana.
UA Anthropology professor David Soren with his canine companion, Lana.

That trust is well-deserved. Soren is noted within the archaeological community for not one, but three major discoveries about the history of Italy.

Soren led archaeological excavations in Cyprus that identified the epicenter of a devastating earthquake that occurred in 365 A.D. He also identified plasmodium falciparum malaria as a significant contributor to the fall of the Roman Empire. 

Additionally, Soren discovered the location of the infamous springs of Chiusi, a sanctuary featuring cold water springs that were rumored to have cured Caesar Augustus, first emperor of Rome, of stomach pains. 

His archaeological prowess combined with his good-natured sense of humor made him a favorite with locals.

“For some reason, they think my jokes are funny,” Soren said. “I haven’t had that experience in the classroom here at the U of A.”

That penchant for joke-telling may have come from his early years of performing in vaudeville, beginning at age 8. Throughout his childhood, he performed in various shows, including as an opening act for the Philadelphia Eagles.

When he was wasn’t performing, he would play near the various theatres in Philadelphia. Instead of a backyard, he had the set of a TV Western, complete with cowboys in white hats riding by on Palomino horses. Occasionally, he would be drafted to act as an extra in various scenes.

“People say ‘how did you end up in Arizona?’ I say, ‘well I grew up in the Old West,’” Soren said. 

His life became no less interesting from there. Soren obtained his B.A. in Greek and Roman Studies from Dartmouth College and his Ph.D. in Classical Archeology from Harvard University. 

His work in archeology granted him the opportunity to work with unique people. 

It includes showing Casper Fleming, son of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, around Tunisia and keeping Terry Jones’ personal collection of Monty Python practice tapes safe for 35 years before giving them to Terry Gilliam’s daughter to use in a documentary.

Soren himself has published multiple books on film, with another recently accepted for publication.

According to Soren, however, his greatest accomplishment is not his archaeological exploits or numerous publications. It is his marriage to his wife, Noelle.

“I got really lucky to marry my dream,” Soren said. “That would be my number-one thing. How she can put up with me, I have no idea.”

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The couple married nearly 50 years ago. For the past 45 years, Soren has gotten up every day and written three jokes for his wife so she can start her day with laughter. 

As random as his fields of interest may appear, there is one common theme that unites them. 

“I’m very interested in forgotten lives,” Soren said. “People who have accomplished something that changed the world … and they don’t get credit for it. They get forgotten.”

With the official naming of a strain of olive after him, combined with his achievements in vaudeville, history and archeology, it is unlikely that Soren need worry about ever being forgotten.

Follow Vanessa Ontiveros on Twitter

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