Grotta Pacelli figurine – Castellana Grotte (BA)

The card was edited by Elvira Visciola

Grotta Pacelli figurine – Castellana Grotte (BA)

The card was edited by Elvira Visciola

The figurine is a small anthropomorphic head in uniformly fired figulina clay, of particular artistic finesse, so much so that it has been defined by Rodolfo Striccoli, archaeologist who supervised the excavations at the site, "… the most beautiful specimen of anthropomorphic plastic from the Neolithic period discovered so far in Italy …”. The lower part of the neck bears the signs of the fracture which occurred due to the detachment of the missing part of the rest of the body, together with some traces of red paint present in several parts of the neck and face, which led us to think that the head probably belonged to a polychrome clay statuette.

The face has an ovoid profile with some anatomical details, such as the nose and eyes which form the typical plastic T-shaped module, modeled in relief with respect to the forehead, as well as a high fringed polos-type headdress, details found in other statuettes, like that of Cala Scizzo need Baselice, demonstrating the spread "… of a substantially unitary typology for the representation of the 'Mother Goddess' …” (MAFugazzola Delpino and V. Tinè, 2002-2003) even in distant areas. The mouth is not represented, but included between two thin lines, engraved vertically and parallel, which reach the chin from the lower part of the nose; the nose has a straight profile with the nostrils indicated by two thin lines engraved vertically; the eyes are represented by two horizontal engraved strokes and thin vertical strokes reproducing the eyelashes. The hat surrounds the face and a fringed horizontal band collects the hair at the top made evident by a series of engraved lines that represent the hair.

The head, which falls within the cultural horizon of Serra d'Alto, "… has all the requisites to be part of the best Neolithic plastic productions in Europe and the Near East and, in particular, those of the Aegean-Balkan area, with which it shows greater stylistic comparisons, however limited only to some compositional elements …” (R. Striccoli, 1980).

The statuette was found together with a large diaphyseal fragment of the right femur of Ovis vel Capra, about 7,5 cm long, cut with clear and perpendicular truncations and decorated with incisions with two pairs of parallel strokes within which a series of thin dashes and parallel in the oblique direction; in the upper part there are rhomboidal squares marked by horizontal and parallel dashes, while in the lower part it seems that an anthropomorphic smiley has been sketched. The meaning of what appears represented is not entirely clear and deserves further investigation; the importance of the find is to be recognized both for the rarity of the type of object in the Italian Neolithic context and for the stylistic and ideological reasons in the Neolithic religious context. From the same level also comes a fragmentary horn polished in gray stone, three perforated animal canines, one of which is split lengthwise at the root, two plates of wild boar tusks, all elements that enhance the cult significance of the entire context, probably were part of the kit of the burials found here.

Historical notes

Grotta Pacelli is one of the many karst cavities of Castellana Grotte, formed by a large front room and a bottom tunnel which tends to narrow, the latter never investigated. From an archaeological point of view, it was reported by Dr. Maria Clori who carried out two exploratory essays on the occasion of her degree thesis; this was followed by three excavation campaigns (in 1974, 1977 and 1978) under the guidance of the archaeologist Rodolfo Striccoli who ascertained the geological and cultural stratigraphy up to a height of 3.40 meters from the original trampling surface, collecting numerous archaeological, faunal and anthropological. Three geological layers have been identified with the following characteristics starting from the bottom:

  • layer III is globally characterized by the dichromatic figulina pottery with simple narrow and wide, regular and irregular bands, in some cases (in the upper layers) tending towards geometrization; it is a facies attributable to the first phase of the Middle Neolithic of southern Italy, more precisely to the IV phase of the Apulian Neolithic style Passo di Corvo;
  • layer II, about 2 meters high, was divided into 9 archaeological layers corresponding to about three cultural stages. The first is from the Serra d'Alto culture with the typical pottery painted in the homonymous style associated with pottery painted in simple bands, attributable to the IV-III millennium BC from Biancofiore; in this stage the female head, the engraved bone and the horn were found near a lithic hearth inserted in a larger lithic structure, a real mediolithic cult monument in local limestone set up to delimit the area used for rituals propitiators. The second cultural stage is represented by the Diana-Bellavista facies, with the typical vases with spool handles in figulina or glossy black impasto ceramics, together with ceramics in the Serra d'Alto style; in this period the cave was used as a collective burial place and the sepulchers consisted of stone beds enclosed by blocks or aligned stones on which the corpses were placed and then covered with other stones and pressed soil. The third stage is the Eneolithic with engraved pottery of the Laterza type and blackish-brown ceramic fragments typical of the Aeolian Islands with the Piano Conte culture and layers of the Diana culture. Upper layers are represented by materials typical of the Bronze Age.
  • layer I yielded black-glazed ceramic fragments of geometric style and represents the last period of occupation of the cave, attributable between the XNUMXth and XNUMXrd centuries BC

Studies carried out on the site have ascertained that the people who have come and gone in the cave practiced sheep farming, breeding, hunting and agriculture, the latter intended as small cultivation. Also in the levels of Serra d'Alto, characterized above all by the presence of the cult monument, there is a mixed economy typical of semi-sedentary communities, with probable cults and agricultural customs aiming at the fertility of the land.

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Grotta Pacelli figurine – Castellana Grotte (BA)


Female figurine


The female head together with the lithic monument were found in the layer attributable to the cultural facies of Serra d'Alto, therefore Neolithic of the Serra d'Alto culture indicated by Biancofiore at the XNUMXth-XNUMXrd millennium BC

Location of discovery

The head was found inside Grotta Pacelli, near the hearth found in the layers referable to the cultural facies of Serra d'Alto; it was found upside down, presumably buried on purpose during a ritual which also included the breaking of small Neolithic pottery. The hearth was abundantly sprinkled with ash and heavily cemented coal dust. The Grotto is one of the karst cavities of the Bari Murge, located in the north-western quadrant of the territory of Castellana Grotte, about 400 meters from the border with the territory of Conversano and 261 meters above sea level - Province of Bari



Environmental context


exhibits exhibited

The statuette is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Santa Scolastica in Bari, in Via Venezia 73, tel. 080-5412596

State of conservation



Overall height of 8 cm., maximum width of 7 cm.

Legal condition

State property


  1. Rodolfo Striccoli - "The ergological complex and various objects of Grotta Pacelli (Bari) - Excavations 1977-1978" - in Proceedings of the 2nd Conference on Prehistory - Protohistory - History of Daunia – San Severo 1980 – pp. 83-112;
  2. Armando Gravina – “Some prehistoric “artistic” manifestations in central-western Daunia” – in Proceedings of the 28th National Conference on Prehistory - Protohistory - History of Daunia – San Severo 2007 – pp. 11-28;
  3. Louis Palmiotti – The ancient population in central Puglia – Antonio Cortese Publisher – Trani 2004;
  4. Maria Antonietta Fugazzola Delpino and Vincenzo Tiné – “The clay female figurines of the Italian Neolithic. Iconography and cultural context” - In Bulletin of Italian palethnology – 2002-2003 – pp. 19-51;
  5. Renata Grifoni Cremonesi and Annaluisa Pedrotti – “Neolithic art in Italy: state of research and new acquisitions” – in Alpine prehistory – no. 46 - Trento 2012 - pp. 115-131;
  6. Alfredo Geniola and Rocco Sanseverino – “Cultural aspects of some Neolithic hypogea in central Puglia" - In Proceedings of the eleventh study meeting “Prehistory and Protohistory in Etruria – Ceremonial landscapes. Searches and excavations – vol. II – Milan 2014 – pp.433-442;
  7. Rodolfo Striccoli – “Preliminary note on the second excavation campaign at Grotta Pacelli (Castellana Grotte – Bari)” - In Proceedings of the XVII International Conference on Magna Graecia – volume I – 1977;
  8. Alfredo Geniola – “Pacelli Cave (Castellana Caves)” - In Proceedings of the XXV Scientific Meeting of Prehistory and Protohistory of Central Puglia – Monopoli 1987 – pp. 24;
  9. Rodolfo Striccoli – “Cultural stratigraphy of Grotta Pacelli (Castellana Grotte – Bari)” - In Proceedings of the XXV Scientific Meeting of Prehistory and Protohistory of Central Puglia – Monopoli 1987 – pp. 263-278;
  10. Mario Giannitrapani – Anthropomorphic Neolithic coroplastic of Italy – Bar International Series 1020 – Oxford 2016;
  11. Renata Grifoni Cremonesi – “Decorative motifs and symbols in the Italian Neolithic" - In Proceedings of the sixth study meeting on Prehistory and Protohistory in Etruria – vol. I – Milan 2004 – pp. 17-32.
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