Ernestine S. Elster

Associated researcher

UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology
Mediterranean Lab

BOX 951510, A335 Fowler
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1510

Phone: 310-713-0358
Fax: 310-206-4723


University of California Los Angeles, MA 1971
University of California Los Angeles, PhD 1977

Areas of Interest

Mediterranean Prehistory; European Neolithic; Prehistory of Southeast Europe: Greece, Italy and the Balkans. Prehistoric Technology.


Research Associate (2017 - present); Visiting Assistant Professor (2012-2017); Cotsen Fellow (2010-2012); Research Associate (1993-2010); Director of Publications (1979-1993); Director, Mediterranean Lab.

The Inter-Departmental Graduate Program in Archaeology commenced awarding degrees in 1976; I received mine in 1977 supervised by the late Marija Gimbutas as Chair. Marija focused on the European Early Neolithic and organized and assigned her students, including me, to excavations at Anzabegovo in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, at Sitagroi and Achilleion in Greece, and Grotta Scaloria in Italy. I also worked at the late UCLA History Professor Jay Freiman’s excavation in Israel (Tel el Burj), directed the UCLA Mission to Malta, and in 1993 joined John Papadopoulos and Sarah Morris at Torone in Greece.

The AIA sent me out as a National Speaker several times; I taught at Pitzer College, UCLA Extension, lectured at Wellesley, SAR ( Santa Fe), was awarded grants from NSF, NEH, Ahmanson, INSTAP, the Cotsen, and presented Pizza talks, research papers and conference reports based on the rich data sets from these UCLA excavations (biblio below).

During the years as Publications Director (an almost 20 year learning curve) we at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology inaugurated several series including, Monographs in Archaeology and Monumenta Archaeologica. I edited and wrote sections of Anzabegovo, Achilleion, and Sitagroi (especially Sitagroi V.2). Along the way, I realized that our discipline hides a world-wide embarassment – abandoned excavations, dug but never fully published. Scaloria Cave was one of these. Organized and excavated (1978-79) by UCLA’s Marija Gimbutas and Santo Tiné (University of Genoa, Italy) and, after the study season of 1980, both moved on to other challenges. However, before their untimely deaths they expressed hope that the work be published and I have fulfilled their optimism. Editing and writing the excavation report with collaborators from England, Italy, and Hungary; bringing together the many disparate data sets from an excavation undertaken decades ago required persistence and the virtual “excavation” of an excavation.

The late Marija Gimbutas (1921–1994), was among UNESCO’s 2021 honorees. She is internationally renowned for her study of the arrival of the Proto-Indo-European languages and culture in Europe. As part of that, I introduced a UCLA Cotsen roundtable discussion via Zoom, “Marija Gimbutas: A Magnificent Validation” ( focusing on one of her most original (and controversial) contributions that has been validated recently by aDNA: the Kurgan Hypothesis and the arrival into Europe of the Proto-Indo-European speakers around 3500 BC. The participants included James Mallory, David Anthony, Dorcas Brown with Willeke Wendrich as moderator. I also collaborated with Zoe Barovsky (UCLA Library for Digital Research and Scholarship), to create a virtual exhibit celebrating the life and achievements of Marija Gimbutas ( During the UNESCO 2021 Centennial I was invited to participate in a Zoom Symposia honoring Marija Gimbutas: University of Washington Baltic Studies Department and University of Vilnius, Lithuania, “Marija Gimbutas and Old Europe”.


2022    “Marija Gimbutas, her Excavations and the Concept of Old Europe”, Lietuvos archeologija, EBSCO Publishing: Central and Eastern European Academic Science European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH)

2020    The Scepter from Sitagroi and Symbols of Power in the Early Bronze Age Between Syria and the Highlands, in Studies in Honor of Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati CAMNES: Milan.

2018   Lithic Studies: The Point of It All. BACKDIRT, Annual Review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology UCLA (38-47)

2017   Lloyd E. Cotsen: A Fond Remembrance. BACKDIRT, Annual Review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology UCLA (7-15)                  

______    Σιταγροί [Sitagroi], in Αρχαιολογία: Μακεδονία και Θράκη [Archaeology: Macedonia and Thrace], eds. A. Vlachopoulos and D. Tsiafaki, Athens, Melissa Publications, pp. 465–467.                                 

______    Legacy data in room 410: A Cautionary Tale, BACKDIRT Annual Review Cotsen Institute of Archaeoloogy, UCLA. (86-87).

 2016     The Archaeology of Grotta Scaloria: Ritual in Neolithic Southeast Italy, eds., E.S.Elster, J. Robb,  E. Isetti & A. Traverso. Monumenta Archaeolgica 38. Cotsen Instiute of Archaeology UCLA. LA, CA (abbreviation used: AGS)

______    Dedication in AGS (p. vii)

______    Acknowledgements in AGS (pp. xxiv-xxv)

______    Grotta Scaloria: An Archaeological History in AGS (pp. 1-11)

______    Marija Gimbutas’ Notes of Tavoliere Sites and Drawings of Scaloria Pottery in AGS (pp. 247-252).

______    In Daily Use: The 1979 Assemblage of Chipped Stone in AGS (pp. 297-316)

______    Conclusions with J. Robb, E. Isetti & A. Traverso, in AGS (pp. 369-384)

2015    Cleaning the dead: Neolithic ritual processing of humans at Scaloria Cave, Italy (with Robb, J., E. Isetti,       C. J. Knüsel, M-A. Tafuri & A. Traverso), Antiquity/Volume 89 # 343: 39 – 54

______    Textile Tools from Sitagroi,  northern Greece  In, eds.,Andersson Strand, E. and M-L.Nosch. Tools, Textiles and Contexts. Investigating Textile Production in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age.  Ancient Textile Series Oxbow Books (299-308).

______    Marija Gimbutas: Old Europe, Goddesses and Gods, and the Transformation of Culture, BACKDIRT Annual Review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. (92-101).

2014     Hunting, fishing and gathering at Sitagroi and beyond: strategies of wild resource use in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age with M. Nikolaidou. In, (eds.) Laffineur et al, PHYSIS, Aegaeum 37. Annales liégeoises  d’archéologie égénne. Peeters Pub (1-9).

2013     Sitagroi in 2013: A Fresh Evaluation of Wild Resource Exploitation during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. BACKDIRT, Annual Review of the Cotsen Inst of Archaeology at UCLA, with Marianna Nikolaidou and Jane Renfrew 

_____     Le Nuove scoperte dell’archeologia Neolitico, PROMETEO, Revista  trimestrale di  scienze e storia, Anno 31 Numero 121 marzo 2013: 44-57.

2012     Scaloria Cave: Found, Lost, and Found Again in BACKDIRT. Annual Review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA: 74-78.

2011    Scaloria cave: progress report, BACKDIRT Annual Review Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.

2009     Archaeology: Access and Publication from the 20th to the21st Century, in Preservation and Access to Archaeological Materials: Managing Portable Collections on Site. Cotsen Digital Archaeology series, eScholarship, University of California Digital Library.

______    Grotta Scaloria in Genoa with an International Cast, BACKDIRT Annual Review of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Cotsen Institute of Archaeology UCLA (pp. 38-39).

2008     Grotta Scaloria  and the UCLA Save Scaloria Project, BACKDIRT Annual Review of  the Cotsen Institute  of Archaeology.Cotsen Institute of Archaeology UCLA (pp. 28-29).

2007     Marija Gimbutas: Setting the Agenda, in Archaeology and Women - Ancient and Modern Issues, eds.,  Hamilton,S., R.D.Whitehouse, and  K. I. Wright. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, CA. (pp. 83-120).

2006     Odysseys Before Homer: Trade, Travel and Adventure in Prehistoric Greece , EPOS.  Reconsidering Greek Epic and Aegean Bronze Age Archaeology, Proceedings of   the 11th International Aegean Conference, eds. R. Laffineur and S.Morris  (pp. 193-201).

2005     A 7,000 year Old Pattern, DIG 7:1, 56-73.

2004     Figuring Out Social Archaeology at Sitagroi, in Explaining Social  Change:  Studies in Honor  of  Colin Renfrew, eds. Cherry, J.,  C.Scarre, and S. Shennan. McDonald  Institute Monographs, Cambridge University,  England. (pp. 81-91).

2004     Achilleion, an Early Neolithic  Site  in Greece, in Encyclopedia of the      Barbarian World,  Vol. I., eds. Bogucki, P. and P. Crabtree.   Scribner’s Sons/The Gale  Group:  Farmington Hills, MI  (pp. 226-229).

2003     **Sitagroi, Excavations in Northeast Greece 1968-1970: Volume 2 The Final Report, Monumenta Archaeologica  20. eds., E.S.Elster  and  C. Renfrew . Cotsen Institute  of Archaeology UCLA. Los Angeles

2001     Middle Neolithic to Early Bronze Age Bone Tools from Sitagroi, Greece, in Crafting Bone: Skeletal Technologies  through  Time and Space  Proceedings of the  2nd meeting  of the  Worked Bone Research Group,  eds., Choyke,A.M. and L. Bartosiewicz . BAR I.S. 937 (pp.355-369).

2000     Middle Neolithic to Early Bronze Age Bone Tools from Sitagroi, Greece, in, Choyke, A. ed., Collected Papers of 5th Conference Bone Tool Study Group, Archaeopress, Budapest.                   

1997     Construction and Use of the Early Bronze Age Burnt House at Sitagroi: Craft and Technology, TEXNH: Craftsmen, Craftswomen and Craftmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age, Aegaeum 16, Proceedings of 6th International Aegean Conference, eds. Betancourt, P. and R. Laffineur.  Temple Univ. (pp. 19-35).                                  

1986     Excavations at Sitagroi, Volume I, eds.,   Renfrew, C., M. Gimbutas, and E.S.Elster. Monumenta Archaeologica 13, Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.