Garapan (Mariannes du Nord): Archaeologists find pre-contact period settlement

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The archaeological data recovery project by Best Sunshine in Garapan is turning up significant artifacts that point to a pre-contact settlement.

Although they have yet to complete 90 percent of the dig, the results have so far been promising.



Dr. Michael Dega and his team have so far found several burials.

He noted that the most interesting are two excavated by Tanapag resident and University of Guam graduate student in archaeology Vanessa Cabrera.

Cabrera, an alumna of Kagman High School, found two ancient Chamorro burials.

Lead archaeologist and owner of Scientific Consultant Services, Inc. in Hawaii, Dr. Michael Dega, told Variety, “Just south though, in the northern quad, we identified a thick pre-contact deposit with tons of shell, pottery, and occasional sling stones. This appears to be solid evidence for a pre-contact settlement.”

Dega said they will continue to investigate further and define this pre-contact settlement’s boundaries.

We are only 10 percent done, with the most interesting parts of the land awaiting the crew. Dave Perzinski, our Field Director, is managing this big job perfectly, and the crew is excellent,” added Dega.

Pre-contact Marianas is divided into three periods: Pre-Latte, Transitional Pre-Latte, and Latte.

Latte stones are the megalithic monuments of pre-contact times in the Marianas.

On their third day of excavation work last week, Dega said they would be on track to completing the work on time.

Last week, the team was able to take out human remains that were previously identified in an archaeological inventory survey conducted in October 2014.

In that survey, the team dug 20 eight-meter-long trenches where the archaeologists found five sets of human remains, two slingtones, a fishhook tab and multiple Latte Period earthenware pottery fragments.

The survey also found a Latte Period cultural layer in 16 of the 20 trenches.

But what they found during the survey they had to leave behind in situ, and cover them to come back to them once the archaeological data recovery began.

Cabrera told Variety, “So far we have found phalanges—finger bones, foot bones and femurs, among others.”

She took note that the bones are in a friable state.

On Tuesday, the team found beads—shell beads.

Cabrera described the beads as round and with holes, and that they could be part of a necklace; however, that remains to be seen.

They’re both white,” she said.

They also found potsherds.

They are in fragments,” Cabrera said.

She said they found a tooth on Wednesday.

Another local expert, John Castro, has been assisting in identifying the artifacts.

Cabrera said that according to Castro, the materials they found relate to the Pre-Contact period, “especially the potsherds.”

As to these charred remains of the pottery, Cabrera said the pots were used by the pre-contact indigenous people to store rice, water, or food, in the event of a storm.

So far, she said, they have found very small fragments.

Mostly charred, burned inside. We might need to do lab work and brush it off and get more information,” said Cabrera

We also found fish hooks. You could see that they’re worked on,” she said.

She said Castro suggests that the fish hooks could be made out of pearl. But they have yet to corroborate this through further testing.

In the meantime, what material they have found, they put in a bag, label and categorize.

They are in storage on site,” said Dega.

From the site, these bags move to the laboratory that is climate-controlled.

That is where everything will be analyzed,” he said.

This is when they will start working closely with the Historic Preservation Office.

All the bones and artifacts will be repatriated to the site at the end of the the work,” said Dega.

Dega said once they are done with digging, they will pick the best samples and send them to Miami, Florida for radiocarbon dating.

Cabrera told Variety that based on the human remains they have found so far, they can say that these were indigenous owing to the artifacts found along with them.

They were in the cultural layer, which is about 60 cm to 70 cm down,” she said.

Dega said one can tell by the context in which the artifacts were found.

In Cabrera’s find, “the context is right in the known pre-contact Chamorro layer,” said Dega.

Dega says “We guarantee that it is a Chamorro burial—indigenous.”

He said if it were closer to the surface, it could be from WWII.

Cabrera said there was no evidence that there was a coffin.

It is just bones — human remains, beads,” she said.

Dega said what they found were all indigenous materials — no glass, no metal.

When asked if they could tell whether they were Latte or Pre-Latte period, Dega said they would have to do radiocarbon dating.

We found charcoal — we might use that to date,” said Cabera.

Asked if they were looking to find remnants of a Spanish colonial village, Dega said, “Maybe.”

Based on several accounts, the ruins of a Spanish colonial village could be at the Garapan site.

We have an estimated location. We’ll dig there. We don’t have much information,” said Dega.

For Dega, it would be great to find one because no one has done so yet..

We are going to look hard in this area,” said Dega.

Several historians have stated that no archaeological work has been conducted on Spanish “missionization” work in the Northern Marianas.

Cabrera is interested in finding more pottery that would help determine whether the site is Latte or Pre-Latte.

She mentioned the Lapita Pottery.

Lapita is a pottery style representative of the potsherds found in the Bismarck Archipelago.

Dr. Mike T. Carson, who has been working extensively on the early human settlements in the region, said this Lapita pottery is a more elaborate form of the same core design system found in Bismarck Archipelago (east of New Guinea) about 3,400-3,300 years ago, and then it continues to be found 3,000-2,800 years ago elsewhere in Island Melanesia and West Polynesia.

Based on Dr. Carson’s work, the pottery found in early human settlements in the Northern Marianas and in Ritidian on Guam comprise a decorative style similar to what appeared in the Philippines at least 3,800 years ago or perhaps earlier, and this style appeared in the Marianas for the first time 3,500 years ago.