Sunday, May 16, 2010

Following on from Peter, but from the perspective of co-directing the project since 2004, I totally agree with him that this was a special year for people. We always have good people on site, and it has always been a very enjoyable time, but this year, amazingly, everyone was laid-back and got on with each other, despite spending 24/7 together for weeks in a heat wave and drought. The archaeology was kind of quiet: usually Ille Cave, of all the sites investigated in Dewil, is a bit like ‘Lost’ – every year we answer some questions but come away with several more. This year, as far as I know to date, there were no surprises – but we managed to begin to sort out some of the questions of the project which we had not been able to focus on previously.

For instance, because we had so many experienced archaeologists (and brilliant students) this year, we were able to test several open-air sites at Dewil and re-visit some of the other caves, which we had wanted to do for many years. I have come away from this season totally convinced that we should make a major effort at Makangit – previously I was interested in that landscape, which comprises a number of karst towers in the locality of a spring, but had never had the time/energy to go and really have a proper look at the caves there before. This year Peter, Victor and I were able to go off for extended periods of time and visit Sinilakan and Makangit. We collected some amazing pottery from both, and checked out a huge looters’ pit at Makangit Idulot. That site looks like an interesting place for a future test excavation, and we plan to do a detailed map of the whole Makangit area. We also managed to get some of the guys to go and map a couple of the caves – using caving and climbing expertise we haven’t had available to us before.

The Sibaltan site was a great success – this was a new look at an old village and trade site, known for its trade-ware pottery. Our aim was to see if we could find evidence at the open-air sites we investigated in Sibaltan to compare to our excavations at Ille Cave, to gather some knowledge of what was happening outside of cave sites. We excavated two locations: the Sibaltan Elementery School site and the Acosta site. Of course we found burials (we always do), including some that are comparable to graves found in the caves. We also found at least one buried soil level in a couple of our trenches, associated with probable post holes – this would mark an old period of stabilisation of the beach sands, with organic topsoil. At the moment we have no idea of the date of this phase. One of the best parts of the Sibaltan excavation was the reaction of the local community to our presence. Every day we had many visitors, and many villagers came for our daily rounds (where we tell each other what has happened in each trench that day). We were so popular that some of our crew who were fluent in local languages were asked to translate from our usual lingua franca (English) every day – and someone even remarked that our dig was like a new local soap opera... The people of Sibaltan were very welcoming, and we hope the exhibit created for the village by some of our crew will keep up their interest in the fascinating history and archaeology of their community and locality. Hope that we can arrange to do some more work at Sibaltan in the coming years!

I have been working for extended periods of time in this area for quite a while now, and every year I have a new type of animal encounter. Sometimes the project feels like an episode of some BBC nature show – the rock under a tent that turned out to be a turtle, giant pseudoscorpions with yellow-green babies on their backs, jumping spiders in Pasimbahan, foot-long flat worms, huge skin-shedding gheckos on the ceiling, the frog madness when the typhoon came, etc. – always in a back-drop of regular sightings of snakes, centipedes, scorpions and millions of interesting bugs. This year I encountered a weird, white ‘fluffy’ beetle, which I tried to no avail to get a photo of. We discovered that stink badgers are alive and well in the centre of Sibaltan. And we had a few new types of snake encounters. I was there for the cobra nest at Ille base camp – the first night we arrived to set up we met not one, but two baby cobras in the campsite (next to the eating area) – one unfortunately (?) died in the encounter, but the other we only managed to chase away. So we spent our first night camping in the knowledge that somewhere (probably under the hut) was a cobra nest. It was a long night... The next day a clear-out of the bags and equipment under the hut expelled a third cobra, and one other, apparently harmless, snake. No mother was ever found.

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