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Durham University

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Caves in Context: the Place of Caves in Middle Bronze Age Southern Lazio, Italy

A research project of the Department of Archaeology.


Our research project seeks to challenge two established traditions of archaeological research in Italy. The first is cave archaeology. Here, caves have often been studied in isolation, especially as sources of stratified artefacts used to refine traditional typological and relative-chronological frameworks. They have also been interpreted through rather simplistic models – for example, as shelters for herders and hunters or as places for the performance of rituals – with relatively limited consideration of the diversity of caves and of the people who actually used and modified them. The second research tradition is the archaeology of the Middle Bronze Age. Here, central Italy has tended to be portrayed – due to a lack of systematic research in the region – as the ‘poor relation’ compared to the archaeology of the Middle Bronze Age in northern and southern Italy. Our research on the place of caves in Middle Bronze Age southern Lazio has the potential to transform both traditions.


Related to these ambitions, our project has five interconnected aims:

1. To achieve a new understanding of the human use of caves in the past, by considering them in context, over space and time, and through the application of cutting-edge scientific analyses to their archaeological remains;

2. To redefine the character of the Middle Bronze Age in central Italy, as distinct from the Middle Bronze Age in northern Italy (characterised by ‘terramare’ sites) and in southern Italy (characterised by defended coastal sites);

3. To establish a new model for future archaeological research and heritage management in Italy, by undertaking a truly collaborative, outward-looking research project;

4. To contribute to the economic development of the tourist-caves of Pastena and Collepardo in the province of Frosinone, by significantly enhancing the scientific and public value of their heritage assets;

5. To publicize the significance of the archaeological and natural heritage of southern Lazio to a wide variety of local, regional and international audiences.

Archaeological data

Our research is focused on the archaeology of the Middle Bronze Age within the catchment area of the River Sacco in the province of Frosinone in southern Lazio.

Our plan is to compare and contrast three major Middle Bronze Age sites: two large caves whose spectacular natural features today attract large numbers of tourists – Grotta del Pertuso (in the Comune of Pastena) and Grotta Regina Margherita (in the Comune of Collepardo); and a little-known settlement site situated on the prominent hilltop of Monte Castellone (in the Comune of Monte S. Giovanni Campano). Preliminary excavations at both cave sites have confirmed that each has rich, intact mortuary deposits, while surface survey at the settlement site suggests that surviving archaeological deposits here (including some potentially ancient terraces) are worthy of closer investigation.

As our project progresses, the archaeological remains from these three sites will also be placed in the context of other Middle Bronze Age sites and remains found in territories of the three respective Communes, through detailed archival research and carefully targeted landscape and cave survey.

Research team

Our project seeks to undertake archaeological research in a new way: one that is characterised by well-integrated collaboration.

Dott.ssa Micaela Angle of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici del Lazio holds overall responsibility for the project.

She is joined by two directors of the scientific research: Prof. Mario Rolfo of the Università di Roma ‘Tor Vergata’, who is directing the work at Pastena; and Dr. Robin Skeates of the Department of Archaeology, Durham University, who is directing the work at Collepardo and Monte Castellone, assisted by Dottssa. Daniela Mancini and Dottssa. Letizia Silvestri.

Together, they are working closely with the Consorzio per la Conservazione e Valorizzazione del Patrimonio Speleologico delle Grotte di Pastena e Collepardo, and with the Communes of Pastena e di Collepardo.


Our project is generously supported by The British Academy, the Prehistoric Society and the British Cave Research Association.


From the Department of Archaeology