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Ernestine S Elster

Ph.D. UCLA, 1977

Fax: 310-206-4723
E-mail: eelster@ucla.edu

Mailing Address:

Cotsen Institute of Archaeology
308 Charles E Young Dr. North
A210 Fowler Building/Box 951510
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1510

Class Websites

Research Interests

Society, settlement, and prehistoric technology; Greece and the Balkans. Grotta Scaloria Project

Research Summary

Grotta Scaloria, a double-chambered cave in southeast Italy has multiple excavation histories. The first begins with its discovery 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 artifacts were dutifully deposited in the Taranto Museum and a short report was prepared. 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 history 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 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 history began. A key member of the current Scaloria team, Professor Santo Tiné, directed these 1960s investigations. He reported at archaeological meetings that both caverns were used for ritual: the Upper Chamber for human burials and the Lower Cavern with its stalactites, stalagmites, pool of water, neolithic pots and other tools represented an altogether different and equally intriguing type of ritual. Again a full report never appeared.

UCLA provided history number three when the late Professor of European Archaeology Marija Gimbutas joined Professor Santo Tiné in a joint project at Scaloria Cave. The goal was to excavate, obtain C-14 dates, establish the cave's stratigraphy, its pottery typology and to explore the cave's use and by whom. The two intense field seasons (1978-79) and one study season (1980: directed by this writer) were never fully published and history number three came to an end. 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.

Scaloria seemed abandoned but certainly not forgotten. By then archaeologists had long regarded it as an archaeological “monument,” albeit naturally formed. Based on the cave's intense and ritual use by the Tavoliere villagers, it holds the significance of any primitive temple. The time frame was established: the sixth millennium, which is at the very beginning of settled village life on the Plain.

Shortly before her death, Marija Gimbutas asked me to promise that I would see to it that Scaloria was published. When John Robb dropped in from Cambridge after his talk at UCLA in 2003 to encourage me to locate all the UCLA documentation, I took up the challenge. And thus, several years later and with the support of Professor Charles Stanish, Director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, we are now writing the fourth chapter in Scaloria's history. The participants and collaborators are listed below, but especially Santo Tiné, John Robb, Eugenia Isetti, Antonella Traverso and myself are all joined in this interdisciplinary and international effort to finally combine the materials from all prior “histories” into a fully documented excavation monograph.

Members of the Scaloria team are currently working in Italy and in collaboration with scholars from several countries preparing for what will be published by the Cotsen. Stay tuned as we add to this web page (people, cave, finds, ideas, dates, etc.) and describe the new analyses, studies, and interpretations.


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