MindaNews photo courtesy of Bong Sarmiento
Before the soldiers' arrival on April 13, the cave, discovered while quarrying limestone at Sitio Sagel, Barangay Pinol on April 5, was guarded by barangay residents. The local commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) sent a team on April 9 to assist in securing the site.
Journalists who joined the National Museum team discovered that the bones found inside the cave were no longer around, reportedly taken by still unknown residents. Reports are thick in this coastal town that some individuals were trying to deal the missing bones for money.
Nida Cuevas, head of the five-person team from the National Museum, expressed hope they could find artifacts that were not disturbed so that a conclusive assessment can be made.
"But based on the face value of the broken jars we've seen, they seem similar to the ones found in Ayub Cave," she told reporters moments after emerging from the chamber.
Anthropomorphic secondary burial jars were recovered in Ayub Cave (also known as Pinol Cave) a few hundred meters away, in 1991.
The archaeological find at Ayub Cave 17 years ago were carbon-dated to nearly 2000 years ago.
New-found. MindaNews photo courtesy of Bong Sarmiento
Some newly-found potsherds were gathered near the entrance of the cave in Sitio Sagel, a fact that apparently displeased the archaeologists.
As the experts went inside the cave, hundreds of residents gathered outside to witness the event.
Alexandra de Leon, a member of the National Museum team, told reporters that those who discovered the artifacts should not have touched them.
"[Ideally,] those that can be subjected to radiocarbon dating examination are those found in their original state. We are hoping we can find other artifacts in their original state," she said.
But the testing process is very expensive. Carbon-dating a small sample, she said, costs at least $1,200 or about P48,000 (at P40 to $1), abroad, an amount the cash-strapped National Museum can hardly afford.
In fact, the team's plane tickets and other expenses while staying here are being shared by the local and provincial governments.
Armed with trowels and paint brushes, the team members raised safety concerns due to the soft, loose and wet soil that could collapse.
"It's not safe to work inside there," Cuevas said, citing particularly the "ceiling" that could collapse.
The local government assured them of safety inside the cave through an engineering team that will put up a base support structure to the "ceiling" using hardwood.
De Leon said the significance of the find, if determined that they are genuine, would help archaeologists understand how the people in this area thousands of years ago, cared for their dead.
Maitum town, Cuevas said, is popular in the international archeological society owing to the 1991 find of anthropomorphic potteries depicting various facial expressions associated to the Metal Age.
The "Maitum Jars," as they are referred to now, bore radiocarbon dates of "1930 plus or minus 50 BP (calibrated date of 5 BC to AD 225) and 1830 plus or minus 60 BP (calibrated date of AD 70 to 370)."
"They are unique in that "they are like portraits of distinct individuals, of specific dead persons whose remains they guard," archaeologist Dr. Eusebio Dizon and Rey Santiago said in the their book, "Faces from Maitum."
Dizon had said the archaeological assemblage in Maitum is "unparalleled in Southeast Asia." (MindaNews)