Ernestine S. Elster

Visiting Research Associate


Scaloria Cave: Ritual and Landscape in the Mediterranean Neolithic

Ernestine S. ElsterErnestine S. ElsterVisiting Research AssociateErnestine S. ElsterVisiting Research Associate

Grotta Scaloria, a double-chambered cave in southeast Italy, was first discovered in the 1930s by workers digging in the Tavoliere Plain of Puglia for the installation of an aqueduct. When the workers unexpectedly exposed a crevice, the local museum mounted a limited excavation. The cave was then closed to await further interest and funding, but events leading up to WW II and the war itself intervened. At some point, the "tombaroli" entered illegally and what was removed will probably never be known. Scaloria's first excavations left archaeologists aware of the cave, its connection to the Neolithic period, and its potential for much more research.

After WW II, geographers observed that air reconnaisance photos taken of the Tavoliere Plain clearly indicated circular trenches cut into the soil. Exploring these circular “ditches,” archaeologists realized that these enclosed clusters of Neolithic dwellings. Slowly work began on these “hamlets,” and during the 1960s the cave's second phase of excavation began. Then, from 1978 to 1980, the late UCLA Professor of European Archaeology Marija Gimbutas joined Professor Santo Tiné in a joint project at Scaloria Cave. The excavated materials were stored in the local Puglian museums, Marija Gimbutas' notes and papers archived after her death (1994) in California, and Professor Tiné's documents filed at his home institution, the University of Genoa.

Shortly before her death, Marija Gimbutas asked Ernestine Elster to promise to see to it that the important work at Scaloria was published. And thus, several years later and with the support of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA—and during September 2010, the School for Advanced Research—Dr. Elster is working with an extensive group of collaborators, especially Santo Tiné, John Robb, Eugenia Isetti, Antonella Traverso, on an interdisciplinary and international effort to finally combine the materials from all of Scaloria Cave's excavations into a fully documented excavation monograph.

Affiliation at time of award:
Research Associate, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles

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