Research Programs: Collaborative Research

Period of Performance

8/1/2008 - 12/31/2012

Funding Totals

$40,000.00 (approved)
$39,999.96 (awarded)

The Scaloria Cave Project: Ritual and Landscape in the Mediterranean Neolithic

FAIN: RZ-50924-08

UCLA; Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA 90024-4201)
Ernestine S. Elster (Project Director: November 2007 to June 2013)

Preparation for publication of a technical and interpretive work on the Scaloria Cave, a Neolithic cult and burial site in the Puglia region of southern Italy. (16 months)

The Scaloria Cave Project is an interdisciplinary, international, collaborative project focused on the analysis and interpretation of unpublished data from a series of explorations of Grotta Scaloria, a double-chambered cave located on the edge of the Tavoliere Plain, Italy. The compilation, analysis, and interpretation of archaeological and archival data from the Scaloria project will contribute significantly to studies of Italian prehistory and also to a broader understanding of Neolithic settlement and social relations, specifically to the role of cult, ritual and burial among early farming and herding populations.

Associated Products

Scaloria Cave: Found, Lost, and Found Again (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Scaloria Cave: Found, Lost, and Found Again
Abstract: The cave, with radiocarbon dates in the 6th millenium BC, is located in southeast Italy (Apulia) and holds evidence of burials and other rituals connected with perhaps a water cult. The cave has two chambers; the upper holds the burials, the lower is filled with stalagtites and stalagmites, a pool of water carved into the rock, and a quantity of pottery sherds.
Author: Ernestine S. Elster
Date: 10/21/2010
Location: Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CN
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA maintains the web site where all of the archaeologists on campus have designed individual web pages and links as do we for Scaloria cave .

Grotta Scaloria: the Emergence of Ritual in Neolithic Italy (Web Resource)
Title: Grotta Scaloria: the Emergence of Ritual in Neolithic Italy
Author: Ernestine Elster
Abstract: Grotta Scaloria, or Scaloria Cave, was discovered in 1931. A rock fall had closed the entrance to the cave for thousands of years. Excavations for an aqueduct in 1931revealed a fissure in the ground which was actually a break in the ceiling of the cave. Exploration of the cave revealed burials, Early Neolithic pottery, flint tools, polished stone tools, and many bones. A short study was conducted in 1936, but World War II intervened, and stopped exploration of the cave by all except a few tombaroli, or tomb robbers. Scaloria Cave was rediscovered by several young speleologists in 1967. Beginning that year, faculty and students from the University of Genoa, led by Professor Santo Tinè, along with the speleologists and members of the Apulian Antiquities Department, undertook several limited explorations and reported their findings at national and international conferences. This inspired the late Marija Gimbutas, Professor of European Archaeology at UCLA, to join her Italian colleague Professor Tinè in the project “The Neolithic of South-East Italy,” jointly sponsored by UCLA and the University of Genoa. They conducted two excavation seasons in 1978 and 1979, along with a 1980 study season that took place in the National Archaeological Museum in nearby Manfredonia, on the Adriatic, where many of the materials from Tinè’s earlier explorations of the Cave and those from the joint excavations are stored. Scaloria was “lost” again as the scholars then moved in different directions. Professor Gimbutas died in 1994 but during her last weeks asked, or rather insisted, that Dr. Ernestine Elster, also of UCLA, promise to see that the Scaloria Cave material was published. With the help of Professor John Robb of Cambridge University, Professor Tinè, and many other participants from the United States and Europe, Dr. Elster has worked to publish the materials, and have this website created
Year: 2010
Primary URL Description: Grotta Scaloria website
Secondary URL:

The Archaeology of Grotta Scaloria: Ritual in Neolithic Southeast Italy (Book)
Title: The Archaeology of Grotta Scaloria: Ritual in Neolithic Southeast Italy
Editor: Antonella Traverso
Editor: Ernestine S. Elster
Editor: John Robb
Editor: Eugenia Isetti
Abstract: Scaloria Cave, Grotta Scaloria, is in Apulia, where the Tavoliere Plain rises to meet the Gargano peninsula. Hundreds of villages were located there during the Neolithic period, the villagi trincerati first identified from aerial photographs taken by the British RAF during WW II. Certainly some of these Neolithic villagers of the Tavoliere visited Scaloria Cave, for refuge from the elements, and for the mysterious rituals held in both the Lower and Upper Chambers. Grotta Scaloria was first discovered and explored in 1931, excavated briefly in 1967, and extensively from 1978–80 by a joint UCLA-University of Genoa team, but never fully published. The Save Scaloria Project was organized to locate this legacy data, and to enhance that information by application of the newest methods of archaeological and scientific analysis. Finally, this important site is published, in one comprehensive volume that gathers together the archaeological data from the Upper and Lower Chambers of Scaloria Cave, which indicate intense ritual and quotidian use during the Neolithic (ca 5600-5300 BC). The Grotta Scaloria project is also important as historiography, since it illustrates a changing trajectory of research spanning three generations of European and American archaeology.
Year: 2016
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: WorldCat listing
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Publisher's listing
Access Model: Book
Publisher: Los Angeles: The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press
Type: Edited Volume
ISBN: 9781938770074
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes