Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Another successful field school

This was the second year of three planned archaeology field schools in SE Asia, funded in part by the Henry Luce Foundation. The goal of these field schools is to build international relationships and advance archaeological field research by bringing students and senior scholars together for intensive field archaeology projects. From my perspective, this year was a huge success. I have been back in Seattle for a week now, but it already feels longer. Amazing how quickly we can move from total immersion to nostalgia! Looking back, the highlights for me were:

The people: most field projects bring together a diverse bunch of people, and the chemistry can be unpredictable. This year, the group worked better than I could have imagined. We had people from ten different countries (Philippines, USA, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, China, Canada, and Ireland). Everyone brought differing levels of experience, different archaeological traditions and culture, not to mention strong personalities! But somehow it all worked and many new friendships were formed. Our host country director, Victor Paz, is a master organizer and leader, which helped smooth all the rough patches, Helen Lewis brought her own expertise and organizing abilities to the project that was just what was needed, and the staff of graduate students from UP and UW made the day-to-day running of the project almost too easy. Most importantly, every day was fun, even when we were hot, exhausted and discouraged. It takes a special group of people to make that happen.

The sites: We got to work in what I would call an archaeologist’s playground in northern Palawan Island. The beautiful Dewil Valley, which has seen 10 years of ongoing research, is filled with caves with records of long term human use, some well known and others waiting to be explored. Sibaltan proved to have the early open sites we were hoping for, though we had to tediously chip through cement like sediments to get to them. El Nido’s Pasimbahan cave was better then expected, with what looks to be pre-pottery deposits found already in our short project there. I’m looking forward to going back in future years and building on the work we completed, particularly the so-called “Neolithic” period, which remains murky in N. Palawan (and Island SE Asia generally).

Local communities: UP has a now long standing relationship with the people of New Ibahay, and that relationship was evident in the way people cared for sites in the area and participated in the ongoing research. Sibaltan was a new place for archaeology. Mindy and Lace’s exhibit was very well received there and I think we will be welcomed back to that place. The tourist town of El Nido may be a tougher nut to crack, but Victor has laid down the important infrastructure to build on in the future.

In all, a great project! I look forward to reading other’s perspectives here on this blog.

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