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Digging San Remigio anew

/ 06:52 AM April 04, 2013

The fourth leg of the San Remigio Archaeological Project of the University of San Carlos Museum started yesterday at the archaeological site known by many as the Lapyahan Public Beach, a small stretch of white sand beside crystal clear waters just behind the San Remigio Catholic Church.

Two doctoral degree students, five master’s degree students, seven undergraduate anthropology students and two trainees from the University of San Carlos are with me in this dig, with a team from the National Museum of the Philippines led by Dr. Ame Garong.

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We are back to prepare a portion of the beach which has been earmarked as the site of a museum to house all the artifacts were recovered in three previous month-long excavations that were carried out on the site since 2011. Gov. Gwendolyn F. Garcia, to recall, gave a million pesos to Mayor Jay L. Olivar of San Remigio to begin the establishment of a museum for this town, often bypassed by people going to Bantayan via the San Remigio port of Hagnaya.

The team will be on site for a month before cement will take over the ground as the museum will gradually rise over what we will be excavating this time. Three previous excavations have proven that this small site, barely 600 square meters to 800 sq. m. of prime beach front property is not just important because people can enjoy the sand and sea without having to pay for it amidst a resort-like ambiance with so much open space, but that it has also yielded some of the most important archaeological finds for Cebu alone.

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During our first excavation here, we recovered burials with carinated pottery, marks of the Iron Age in the Philippines. The second phase, conducted a few months thereafter on the church grounds across the beach also yielded similar types of potteries from other burials. A sample of bone sent to the United States for radiocarbon dating yielded a date of 1,600 years before present, making this site the oldest Iron Age site in Cebu.

As if this was not enough, last year’s excavation phase not only yielded a burial with cranially reformed skull but a tooth with gold studding, locally called “bansil”. The surprise of surprises was the recovery of three different-sized jar burials, two of which contained the remains of children. With all these discoveries, it can be concluded that this small spot in San Remigio appears to be a multi-period site, occupied and made into a burial ground over a long period of time, perhaps marked by years of abandonment and then reuse. This is not a conclusion, however, but a mere hypothesis. The only way to make final statements or aver with certainty that this hypothesis is correct or not is to carry out more excavations. Hence, the reason for our return.

The stronger impetus is, of course, the establishment of a town museum right on the very spot where burials may be found. Once the museum is built, it will no longer be possible to dig beneath it.

* * *

If not for a celebration by the Cebu City Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission, yesterday’s commemoration of the Tres de Abril revolt that began the Cebuano uprising against Spain, it would just have been any ordinary day.

Perhaps if yesterday was a holiday, Cebuanos would have had some idea about that afternoon of April 3, 1898 when Leon Kilat (Pantaleon Villegas of Bacong, Negros Oriental) led the fledgling Katipunan chapter in Cebu in a bloody but victorious confrontation against the Spanish guardia civil and cazadores right at the very spot along Tres de Abril Street where the National Historical Maker was installed in 1968. Sometimes the marker’s locale becomes a venue for a Christmas belen or some other decoration. I wonder how Leon Kilat and all the young men of San Nicolas who fought that day feel about how this historical moment has been almost completely forgotten.

Fortunately, one of the scions of that revolt, lawyer Harve Abella has put on his Facebook page a blow-by-blow recounting of that fateful day. Thank you, Harve for reminding the cyberworld of the day when Cebuanos learned that the hour of freedom was nigh.

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