Maitum declares new cave an archaeological site; NM team digs 2 test pits

This as the five-person team from the National Museum ended Thursday its second day on-site study with two test pits inside the cave, recovering six plastic bags of soil, potsherds and human and animal bones, including cranium fragments.

Emerging out of the cave afternoon of  Wednesday and Thursday,  team members immediately laid out on a sheet of sack the find from inside, for everyone to see: potsherds, bone fragments, soil samples.

Part of an adult female’s breast
Photo courtesy of Maitum information
officer Beth Ramos-Palma Gil

On Wednesday afternoon, the team dug up potsherds, among them part of an adult female’s breast and part of an elbow.

As of Thursday afternoon, the test pits were at 78 and 20 centimeters from the surface. (As of Friday afternoon,  the first test pit had reached  110 centimeters from the surface and the team retrieved all bones, according to Maitum information officer Beth Ramos Palma Gil).

Concerns raised by some residents, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in this predominantly Moro village have delayed a bit the team’s study.

The team arrived here from Manila Tuesday afternoon and started digging their test pits Wednesday. But work conditions inside the cave that day were not conducive as quite a number of villagers wanted to see for themselves what was being dug inside.

Archaeologist Nida Cuevas, team leader, told MindaNews that they have informed the villagers and the local government that the artifacts they get would remain in Maitum. She said they will do an inventory of the artifacts they dug up inside and bring an inventory to Manila.

On Thursday morning,  persons claiming to speak for the residents (the barangay captain of  this village of 2,139 residents was not around) asked the team to return to the town proper 17 kilometers away,  until their concerns were addressed.

Apparently there were rumors being passed around that the cave yielded treasures other than cultural artifacts and some sectors wanted the village to have a memorandum of agreement about “sharing.”

Whatever the National Museum Team has dug up, however, is known everyone as the team has made it a point to lay them down on a sack for the public to see.

NM team member Alexandra de Leon lays down
parts of cranium and other artifacts taken from
inside Cava Sagel on sheet of sack for everyone to see.
MindaNews photo by Skippy Lumawag

Informed around 9 a.m. Thursday that the team was turned back, Maitum Mayor Elsie Lucille Perrett immediately rushed out of her office and proceeded to the site with only her security aides, returning nearly two hours later to tell the National Museum team, “they won’t bother you anymore.”

“I told them  if they have problems, they should tell me immediately,” Perrett said, adding that the issue of an MOA was brought up with her, to which she said  “okay, give me your draft and I will study it.”

Perrett also ordered that only the team members and three or four laborers be allowed inside the cave to allow the team a conducive work area.

While the mayor was in Barangay Pinol, Cuevas, who did a gender study on the nearly 2000 year-old anthropomorphic jars found in the same barangay in the 1990s, gave reporters a briefing, aided by Powerpoint, on the jars while another team member, Alexandra de Leon, gave a briefing on Philippine pre-history with the 1991 Maitum jars already part of  the Powerpoint slides on Metal Age Philippines.

By Thursday afternoon, when the National Museum Team resumed digging inside Sagel Cave, the working condition had improved. An electric bulb had been provided by the local government, only the team members and laborers were allowed inside the cave and even reporters agreed among themselves to take turns entering the cave.

Photographers and videographers take turns
at two each to go inside Cave Sagel.
MindaNews photo by Skippy Lumawag

Since Perrett was informed about the artifacts late afternoon of April 5, she had lost no time in ensuring the preservation of the artifacts. She proceeded to the site the next day and ordered the area sealed off and secured to prevent looters, pending the arrival of a team from the National Museum.

The local commander of the MILF on April 9 volunteered his men would help secure the area, as did the MNLF later. Soldiers from the  66th Infantry Battalion arrived at the area on April 13 and have since been guarding the site.

The National Museum Team would not have been able to proceed to this town immediately had not Sarangani Governor Miguel Dominguez promised to take care of the team’s plane tickets and other incidental expenses and Mayor Perrett the team’s accommodation and food.

On Monday, the Sangguniang Bayan unanimously passed Resolution 2008-048 declaring the newly-found cave in Sitio Sagel as archaeological site.

De Leon said the cave is a “natural cave” that may have been covered over time.

Cuevas said they were informed by the machine operator that they had quarried about eight meters into the hill when the opening, a sinkhole, was found and operations were suspended due to the find.

The resolution noted that the artifacts “could be used as material evidences for the determination of Maguindanao prehistory and of course the Filipino people in general.”

It also said that “the archeological find which our Southeast Asian neighbors do not have will likewise help boost the tourism industry of Maitum and eventually provide sustainable livelihood for the people near the area and the whole Maitum.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)