National Museum orders transport of remaining seized cultural artifacts

In a letter to Maitum Mayor Elsie Lucille Perrett dated February 16, 2009 but received only recently, National Museum Director Corazon Alvina said that a study conducted by Dr. Eusebio Z. Dizon and his staff members revealed that the potteries are “different from Ayub Cave pottery assemblage.”

“While the anthropomorphic potteries from Ayub Cave and confiscated materials exhibit similarities in general morphology, variation in the details of human traits were observed.
Likewise, the technology employed in pottery production was different. These suggest that the makers of this confiscated pottery were a distinct or separate group that most likely had contact with the group who made and used the pottery from Ayub,” Alvina said, quoting from the study.

Dizon in September inspected the contents of the 22 bags and chose five for transport to Manila.

Different

His initial remarks then were that the shards from the seized anthropomorphic burial jars are “different” from the now-famous “faces from Maitum.”

“They’re a different people. They’re a bit different from the Maitum collection that’s why it’s good to know how different they really are,” Dizon said when he passed by the provincial police headquarters in Alabel, Sarangani from Balut Island on September 11, on his way to Manila, to check on the artifacts.

The Maitum anthropomorphic secondary burial jars which Dizon’s group dug in Ayub Cave in Barangay Pinol in 1991 were about 2,000 years old. 

“They’re really different,” Dizon said, of the seized artifacts, adding that the faces are different and the fingers on the hands of the Maitum jars are just lines, unlike the seized artifacts, whose fingers are separate. 

“The more important thing is to find out the location, the origin of these shards,” he said. 

Dizon said the artifacts had obviously been dug up for years already because “the lime deposits have been washed out.” This means these have been excavated a couple of years ago. 

He said glue markings are also evident as some people apparently tried to put the pieces together.

Assessment

In a four-page assessment, Dizon, Curator I, Scientist 3 of the National Museum’s Archaeology Division; Nida Cuevas, Museum Researcher 2 and Alexandra de Leon, Museum Researcher 3,
said the five sacks had “470 earthenware sherds that include 151 anthropomorphic vessel body parts (heads, eyes, mouth, ears, hands, arms, nipples) and 321 non-anthropomorphic fragments” and although generally similar in morphology to the Maitum assemblage, “are markedly different particularly in terms of detail in the representation of human f
eatures, and production technology.”

They cited differences relating to the heads, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and breasts but also noted similarities.

The authors said the observations on the seized artifacts are “preliminary and further analyses are needed.”

But based on the observations, “it can be categorically stated that the confiscated anthropomorphic pottery do not come from Ayub Cave. Due to similarity, however with the Ayub Cave pottery, these materials (are) likely sourced from nearby caves in Maitum or possibly Palembang in Sultan Kudarat.”

“It must be noted that the present political boundary between Maitum (in Sarangani province) and Palembang (in Sultan Kudarat province) may be different in prehistory of about 2,000 years ago. Although, the noted differences of these confiscated items of anthropomorphic pottery from the Ayub Cave pottery collection suggest at least two different styles and expressions of possibly two groups of people or tribes in the general area of Maitum,” the authors wrote.

The artifacts were seized by Maitum police on August 19, 2008 after a resident who was apparently aware of the priceless value of the cultural artifacts phoned the police about the “suspicious-looking” cargo being loaded on a tricycle.

The police were shown a “permit to transport” number 00003803 from the National Museum authorizing “the bearer, Mr. Jimmy Tan,” proprietor/owner of JM Antiques at 115 CM Recto Avenue in Sta. Cruz, Manila, “to transport assorted pieces of cultural properties from General Santos City to the City of Manila for the purpose of authentication and registration with the National Museum from July 16 to August 16, 2008.”

General Santos is 108 kilometers away from Maitum. The permit had expired three days earlier.

Vigilance

On September 1, Mayor Perrett called Alvina and informed the latter that she will not release the artifacts because the representative of Tan could not present a permit to excavate or a deed of sale.
On September 2, Dominador Berdin, who claimed to be Tan’s representative, returned to the Maitum police to present a deed of sale dated September 2, that the “broken earthenware potteries” (in the expired ‘permit to transport,’ it was referred to as “cultural properties”) were purchased by Berdin in Maguid, Palembang, Sultan Kudarat for P30,000.” 

On September 6, Sarangani Governor Dominguez ordered the artifacts transferred from the Maitum police to the provincial police in Alabel, Sarangani following reports the artifacts might be forcibly taken from the police office. 

On September 10, Dominguez phoned Alvina and demanded action from the previous requests of Mayor Perrett.

Good for Mindanao, entire country

Dizon told Sarangani Governor Rene Miguel Dominguez and Maitum Mayor Perrett that he studied the Makar wharf and airport in General Santos prior to their construction and found many sites there had decorated potteries.

”I think Maitum was a burial site and maybe General Santos was the habitation? Where the people were living or staying then, I’d like to find out,” Dizon said.

He told Dominguez and Perrett that there was a forest growth in the General Santos area 7,000 years ago. “It disappeared 5,000 years ago when Parker and Matutum erupted and that covered the whole area but there were no people during that time.”

“The earliest so far of human occupation for Mindanao is Maitum,” he said. “That’s why Maitum is significant.” 

He said the seized artifacts are “good materials, good for Mindanao, good for the entire country (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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