Iceland’s Sword and Philippine Archaeology
In 2011, a team of archaeologists from the National Museum of the Philippines and the University of San Carlos unearthed six burials in front of the old façade of San Remigio Church in the town of the same name in northern Cebu.
These burials were suspected to date to the Philippine Metal Age, between 1,000 BC and AD 500, especially since not a single piece of Chinese or other Asian ceramic trade was was found. The burials were interred instead with a number of earthenware pottery, some beautifully decorated.
One particular burial had more than his share of potteries: he was interred with an iron dagger, three smaller iron tools shaped like harpoon tips and a melon shell whose inner structure was carefully removed to allow it to be used as a kind of “rimas,” a scoop to remove water most probably from a baroto or outrigger boat.
These were the first ever to be found in site in Cebu. A radiocarbon date of one tooth later revealed that the particular burial on which the tooth was sampled dated to around 1,600 years before the present, or something like AD 400.
Fast forward to 2016 and yesterday I read in the news the finding of a thousand-year-old sword in Iceland.
Between the much-younger and less rarer sword and the really rare iron “harpoon tips” of San Remigio, the sword won the international notice of media.
I have nothing against newspapers publishing things about artifacts suddenly found in other countries but this event sheds some light on how very little of archaeology in the Philippines gets noticed in national media and why archaeologists need to engage the media in whatever it is doing in the country today.
This was part of the paper that I read in the latest meeting of the World Archaeological Congress, which was held in Kyoto last week, only the eighth time since its founding in 1986. Some 1,600 delegates from all over the world gathered at Doshisha University for five days of conferences, debates and meetings.
It is, without doubt, unfair to compare the state of archaeology in the Philippines withthat of our host country, Japan, of course. But I am sure those in attendance from the Philippines (there were six of us), learned a lot, especially with regards to local government involvement in ensuring that archaeological resources are not lost to infrastructure development, like the building of highways, bridges, and condominiums.
For some reason, Japan started early, way back in 1908, when it assigned its Board of Education (our equivalent to the American-era Bureau of Education) to carry out serious archaeological studies in all of the municipalities and prefectures (provinces to us) in Japan.
By the 1960s, every prefectural government, as well as, the cities and towns under them, already had archaeologists embedded into the government plantilla, carrying out excavations especially when these involved the construction of public infrastructure.
And when sites were found, a full-blown excavation was carried out before any public works project can proceed. Japan has a treasure trove of artifacts in a myriad number of public museums, almost one for every town, and hundreds of archaeological reports and printed books covering thousands of years of prehistory.
This has happened partly because Japan has a Department of Education, Sports and Culture, the latter charged with ensuring that culture does not take the back seat in the Japanese legislature and the executive department.
We, too, had one like that and I wonder what happened why, despite the existence of the old Martial Law-era Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports (MECS, later DECs), archaeology never grew beyond the confines of two or three universities and the National Museum.
I am therefore willing to consider the establishment of a Department of Culture under the Duterte presidency, in the hope that something akin to that of Japan, will eventually unfold right at the local government level.
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