Monday, June 7, 2010

55 Day Expedition: Palawan Field School

One of my favorite aspects of the field school was the diversity of the students. There were those, myself included, who had no experience whatsoever, mixed with students who participated in numerous archaeological sites across all of Southeast Asia. As a group we excavated three separate areas on the island of Palawan and numerous sites and trenches within those areas. We worked in any given trench at most a few days, giving us the chance to see the entire site and work with everyone in the group in different locations.

At first I did not think I would like moving around so much and barely becoming familiar with the different contexts in any given trench but the more I experienced moving around I saw that this was so extremely helpful, especially to someone who had never excavated before. I was able to apply the basic techniques of identifying contexts and comparing sediments through color, compactness, particle size, and inclusions to all the trenches I worked in. Even coming across trenches that were archaeologically sterile proved useful as we were able to practice the methods of excavation and recording.

Cave archaeology was something that I had never really considered before this field school. Two out of the three sites we excavated however had some sort of cave environment. In El Nido we worked in a cave called Pasimbahan, a cave known to have local religious connections but had never before our team been studied by the academic world. We opened up two trenches in the cave mouth where the majority of our team worked while a few of us explored the rest of the cave, in search of any anthropological activity. In the Dewil Valley, the third location our team excavated, caves were in abundant supply. Members of our team explored caves rich with archaeological material. Collecting vast numbers of pot sherds during the day turned into complex puzzles in the evening. Especially evident in the third area we worked, we saw how archaeology saturated the land.

I noticed over the course of the field school there was a strong curiosity and overall support that the local community extended towards us. In every location we excavated, visitors came to observe, ask questions, and just hang out. Kids as young as toddlers followed their older comrades to watch us working. Some spectators would come to help and others just to watch. The support we saw in the communities where we worked was easily seen in the highly successful exhibition we put on in Sibaltan. The exhibit featured a general history of the area and town, as well as what archaeology was and who we were. As a first glance at archaeological field work, I must say I was pretty spoiled to be a part of such a wonderful group of people in such an archaeologically rich region.

I was lucky enough to spend two extra weeks with students from University of the Philippines at the very end of the field school, participating in more field work. The difference in these two weeks from the field school meant smaller teams at each of the sites and an overall theme of areas that needed further excavation in the future. As part of the field school, especially to those of us who were learning for the first time, there was a general awareness that once the field school had a definitive end. By staying a couple weeks longer I felt I was part of a larger, longer project which extended into the years to come. Overall, this experience proved to be a great starting off point for my future in archaeology which this field school verified my deep love for.

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