Maitum cave yields artifacts similar to 1991 find

BARANGAY PINOL, Maitum, Sarangani (MindaNews/10 April) – A cave discovered while quarrying limestone in Sitio Sagel last Saturday has yielded artifacts similar to the Metal Age anthropomorphic secondary burial jars discovered in another cave a few hundred meters away from here in 1991.

The nearly 2,000 year old anthropomorphic pottery excavated from the Pinol Cave  here 17 years ago, was described as an “exceptional archaeological assemblage” by then National Museum Director Gabriel Casal and according to Dr. Eusebio Dizon, head of the National Museum archaeological team that dug those cultural treasures, was “unparalleled in Southeast Asia.”

The jars, bearing 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),” are unique in that “they are like portraits of distinct individuals, of specific dead persons whose remains they guard,” Dizon and Rey Santiago said in their book, “Faces from Maitum.”

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Mayor Lucille Perrett (in red) MindaNews photo by GG Bueno

Informed about the find late Saturday, Mayor Lucille R. Perrett proceeded Sunday to the site some 17 kilometers from the town hall, and immediately ordered it sealed and secured pending the arrival of a team from the National Museum. The local commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Wednesday also vowed to help the town and barangay government in securing the area.

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The View from inside the cave. MindaNews photo by BJ Patino

The cave portal is located about three meters above the road level, about five to six meters into the bulldozed portion of a hill. One goes down the portal to get into the cave. Around 15 meters away on the bend, residents pointed to what they said was the opening of the cave that no one has entered, they said, because it is too small.

Among the artifacts photographed inside the cave by Maitum information officer Beth Palma Gil last  Sunday were small potsherds, bones, animal teeth but she could not say whether or not the bones were with the potsherds as apparently some people had earlier segregated the sherds from the bones.

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Bones inside cave. MindaNews photo courtesy of Beth Palma Gil/ aitum Information Office

When MindaNews visited the site last Monday, Liling Diabel, the owner of the land on which the cave was discovered, brought out a sack of potsherds, some about the size of a dinner plate, one clearly the base of a big burial jar similar to the Maitum jars on display at the Museum of the Filipino People in Manila,  and a reddish portion of what may be an urn (see photographs). Diabel also showed a potsherd which is a portion of the left side of a face, including part of the left eye and ear, that fit into an upper torso sherd.

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The find. MindaNews photo by GG Bueno

“Parang katulad nga,” (Very similar) Wilfredo Ronquillo, head of the Archaeological Division of the National Museum, and Rey Santiago, who was with Dizon in the 1991 excavation told MindaNews  upon seeing samples of the potsherds and the photographs late Wednesday afternoon at Ronquillo’s office at the National Museum in Manila. MindaNews brought samples to their office.

Ronquillo said they will dispatch a team to Maitum to conduct an on-site investigation but acknowledged the office’s budgetary constraints. He said their second quarter budget has yet to be released.

But Ronquillo said the team can leave for Maitum immediately if the local government can defray the cost of the team’s plane tickets and other expenses. The team comprises four persons – a scientific team and a member of the cultural properties division.

It’s a race against time, however, as local government officials are getting worried about the reported looting of some artifacts. The longer the wait for the National Museum team, the more the possibilities the artifacts inside would be stolen or disturbed and the cave itself, disturbed even more. As it is, the signs of disturbance have become very evident and part of the ceiling has collapsed.

In 1991, budgetary constraints as well as security problems delayed the team’s arrival in Maitum. By the time the team arrived, the cave had been “severely disturbed” because a Japanese national financed a digging there in search of gold bars.

Santiago told MindaNews the community should be reminded that there are no gold treasures in that part but cultural treasures that are priceless. Those cultural treasures, he stressed “are not the property of one person but of  the whole country.”

Aware of the significance of the new site, Sarangani Governor Miguel Dominguez told MindaNews he would send the National Museum team’s plane tickets by Friday and hopes the team would be in Maitum by Monday.

Diabel, 37, owner of the land adjacent to where the cave was found, told MindaNews he was aware of the importance of the artifacts and reported this to barangay captain Lamia Mala, because as a young man, he was among the laborers during the excavation of the Ayub cave in 1991.

He says he still remembers the training Dr. Dizon and Santiago gave them and in fact told the group the best receptacle for the potsherds is a bukag (basket), which barangay residents actually produce.

The anthropomorphic potteries discovered here in 1991 were designed and formed like human figures with complete facial expressions and used as covers for secondary burial jars. Also found were glass beads and bracelets; shell spoon, scoop, bracelets and pendants; earthenware potteries with incised designs and cut-out foot-rings; and non-anthropomorphic burial jars.

“Some faces are thin with pointed chins and shriveled puckered mouths associated with the toothless or the aged. Other heads wear a smile displaying a full set of teeth. A patch of black paint on the head indicates where hair should be. Others with perforations suggest a more realistic portrayal. Had hemp fiber filled those holes to represent tufts of hair? Who were these people? When, and how did they live?” the authors asked.

Dizon and Santiago said they could only provide “preliminary analysis” given the budgetary constraints, time constrains, absence of laboratory analysis and the fact that the cave had been “severely disturbed” by the time they arrived.

Who, indeed, were these people depicted in the anthropomorphic potteries in Maitum? When, and how did they live?

Maybe the new site has the answers? (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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