Skip to main content

AFS 2014 Field Notes: Archaeology In Action

June 17, 2014

AFS 2014 Field Notes: Archaeology in ActionAs students of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UP-Diliman), it is required of us to embark on a “rite of passage” from which we shall be trained in the study of humanity. The department upholds the four-field approach when delving into the study of Anthropology and it is primarily done by applying a curriculum that focuses on a holistic approach and direct hands-on learning that is best executed when done in the context of field work. Field work in itself is a fundamental practice of any anthropologist. This culminating activity is made to give us a common strand and strength as students of Anthropology.

Our batch, the Anthropology Field School 2014 (AFS 2014), of nineteen undergraduate students started the journey in April 10 that carried on until May 22. Our fieldwork as the golden batch of the Anthropology field school program was held in Initao, one of the municipalities of Misamis Oriental, located in Northern Mindanao. Asst. Professor Janine Ochoa supervised the archeological study (under Anthropology 195) with the help and supervision of Asst. Professor Efenita Taqueban, the Field School Director, and Ms. Anna Pineda, research associate from the Archaeological Studies Program University of the Philippines-Diliman (ASP UP-Diliman). The batch arrived in Initao on May 8 and concluded the field work on April 21.

What is an Archaeology field school?

AFS 2014 Field Notes: Archaeology in ActionArchaeology being the study of humanity through material remains has long required its discipline to be primarily conducted in the field where the application of knowledge learned from the classroom can be put to use. The discipline puts great emphasis on going beyond the bounds of what textbooks can offer us.

The objective of field work is to train the Anthropology students on how to set-up an archaeological research site and how to commit to working on an excavation; these would constitute of archival research, preparations before the field and post-field laboratory work. The rudiments of archaeological work are put into practice and applied into real-life setting where we take hold of every step in the process of the field school. Special lectures are also intermittently held during the fieldwork to apply the theories, concepts and methodologies behind the archaeological excavation to help aid and deepen our archaeological research.

The archaeological field site

A team of the archaeologists led by Dr. Lee Neri under the auspices of the ASP UP-Diliman, conducted the project Archaeology of the Coastal Area in Northern Mindanao. His team had worked on a archeological survey of Misamis Oriental resulting in the discovery of 25 open sites, 12 historical sites and 4 cave sites. His work became the baseline of our archeological project.

Our batch was able to visit some of the sites through the efforts and guidance of Dr. Neri’s team who were, at that time, currently excavating a site in Alubijid. The batch participated in the Alubijid site, lending a hand in the accessioning. A day-long archeological survey was also conducted, which included sites in Jasaan, Huluga in Cagayan de Oro, an excavated church site in Opol, and a visit to the City Museum of Cagayan de Oro. The significant finds that were found in these sites of Misamis Oriental are porcelain wares that could have been traded with other external and internal ancient communities and ruins that were built during the Spanish era.

Taken from Dr. Neri’s regional survey report, the Municipality of Initao was chosen among all the other sites to for the Archaeology phase of the AFS 2014. The location has a large quantity of surface finds and figures in the oral history.

Initao is located in Western Misamis Oriental, roughly over two hours away from Cagayan de Oro City. The two archaeological sites identified in the municipality were the sites of the Gamay nga Ilihan (small natural fortress) and the Dako nga Ilihan (large natural fortress). Once we arrived, our batch was very grateful to have received a warm reception and continuous support throughout the excavation of Dako nga Ilihan.

The excavation in Dako nga Ilihan was done primarily to fully understand the use and purpose the natural fortress exhibited in the context of the ancient communities and ancestors of Initao. This would be approached by analyzing the artifacts and materials remains they left behind. With these pieces of evidence, it is possible to deepen and enrich the local history and lifeways of people who settled in Initao. The recurrent artifacts found in the site were pottery sherds such as porcelain and earthenware, special stone flakes such as chert and obsidian, work and unworked shells, charcoal pieces and animal bone fragments.

Dako nga Ilihan is a large hill, surrounded by heavy forestation, at a location that overlooks the sea to the west. The site also has a vantage point of Gamay nga Ilihan to the north. To get to the site, one must walk a 30-minute to 1-hour trek from the sentro of the town to reach the top of the hill.

The ilihans or natural fortresses in Initao were believed to be used even before the Spaniards came to the district. Ms. Vismin Lozano, a Higaunon and former Department of Interior and Local Government of Initao, narrated that these natural fortresses were the refuge of the women and children of Higaunon, the earliest known settlers of Initao, when raiders would attack their community. According to their local history there were constant battles waged between the Moro and the Higaunon. Ilihans were used as the primary strategy of the Higaunon to protect their community. Ms. Lozano mentioned that Spaniards later used these natural fortresses to build clay bricked-watchtowers as these hills make perfect vantage points to see the arrival of people both by water and by land. Today, the Dako nga Ilihan is now privately owned by the current mayor of Initao, Mayor Enerito Acain V. The Mayor plans to make the large natural fortress a historical tourist spot by 2016.

Archaeology requires cooperation and discipline

After securing permission from the National Museum and the Municipality of Initao, the AFS 2014 set off to begin with our archaeological studies.

Ms. Gagang Chio, the budget officer of the Municipality of Initao, and her family were very kind and welcoming to offer us a place in their home for the duration of our field work in Archaeology. A regular excavation day starts from 6 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Activity for the day would include the preparation of the equipment, excavation, recording of data and updates of work through group rounds.

The batch was divided into groups of four to five students and each group was assigned to one of the four trenches – a four-cornered space where archaeologists are set to dig. With the help of the locals, we named the trenches in the Bisayan language:

Patag sa Ubos 1 (Plain Below 1) lied on the bottom of the west slope of Dako nga Ilihan; the part of the site that had been disturbed by the plantation of corn as well as erosion. The students who worked this trench were Bernadette Almanzor, Ferlie Famaloan, Erika Navarro, and Ellaine Tan. Significant finds were glass beads, metal blade and animal bones.

Patag sa Ubos 2 (Plain Below 2) is located at the bottom of the west slope, near Patag sa Ubos 1. This part of the site was also disturbed by agriculture and erosion. Chanty Arcilla, Winonna Fernando, Luisa Narciso, Rissey Reyes, and Xavier Su worked in this trench and they uncovered an important feature which is a possible posthole.

Kanlurang Bungtod (North Slope) lied on top of the west slope of Dako nga Ilihan. The location was chosen due to its vantage point of the sea. In this part of the site, Xy Azurin, Marian Carlos, Xian Claver, Joolia Demigillo, and Lian Domingo uncovered metal slags, charcoal pieces and animal bone fragments.

Katunga/Tunga sa Ilihan (Middle of the Natural Fortress) is located at the northern part of the site and it was believed to have been a burial site. Significant finds in this area were obsidian core, bone fragments and stone beads. Meg Forteza, Ina Fuentes, Jovee Jao, Aliette Mesa, and Cholo Olaguer excavated in this trench.

In addition to these four major trenches, two test pits were set up with the help of Ms. Anna Pineda in order to have a clear look at the sites’ strata at the site’s highest point and to investigate the local’s claim of the trench location as an area containing human remains.

Through the whole course of the excavation, the local government of Initao provided assistance through Mr. Tata Torres, of its Engineering Department, Jing Sanso, and Mr. Romel “Balete” Jarales who is the caretaker of the Dako nga Ilihan. They provided much help in attending to the logistical needs of the class and were a source of local folklore. They also took to the learning of Archaeology and its processes by observing and participating in the excavating.

A series of lectures were given both by the field director, several archaeologists and professors who are experts in their different fields of study. Dr. Neri and his team in Alubijid gave lectures on the different shells, beads and man-made materials that we may find at Dako nga Ilihan and the different archaeological sites in Misamis Oriental. Meanwhile, Professor Arnold Alamon, faculty of Sociology in Mindanao State University in Iligan City, shared his knowledge on the political economy of Mindanao through his ethnographic study of northern Mindanao roads. His presentation provided a context to the urban center-municipal-periphery interconnection, providing a segue from the Urban Anthropology field work in Cagayan de Oro to the municipio of Initao. All of these are crucial in our analysis and in furthering our understanding of the site and its archaeology.

Fieldwork is more than just being out there

AFS 2014 Field Notes: Archaeology in Action

Learning in the field school is an understatement. There is a lot that each member of the field school can share – may it be reflections and realizations about the place, people, issues and the self.

In our archaeological excavation, we learned that the active participation and interest of the local government unit in pushing the efforts of piecing cultural history together helps in preserving the municipality’s heritage. This inspires work with the realization that the result of the academic work can be of use to the building and the strengthening their group identity as well as contributing to the tourism of their district.

As we went about each day, waking up with the beautiful view of the beach and the warm greeting of Initaonons, then ending the day with a hike, we learned to acknowledge everyone’s efforts and work in reaching our common goals and objectives for the field school. In a span of two weeks and a half, a lot of things were realized and pondered on. We came to understand how the simplest things are in turn one of the most important ones. We, for the most part, learned how our cooperation coupled with passion to do this academic work for the people of Initao is a very big thing in itself and that this initial step can go a very long way for the municipality.