Museo Sugbo joins Gabii sa Kabilin

•May 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Gabii sa Kabilin Na!

Jobers R. Bersales

Last night, six museums around the old Spanish period section of Cebu opened their doors from 6 o’clock in the evening up to midnight in celebration of the National Heritage Month and the observance of International Museum Day. Called “Gabii sa Kabilin”, this showcasing of museums in Cebu City in one night is the only one of its kind in Asia, after a similar practice among museums in Berlin.

This was the third time that Gabii sa Kabilin will unfold in Cebu but it was doubly significant because Museo Sugbo, the Cebu provincial museum, not only joined the event after just eight months in existence, but also served as the jump off point to open this annual event. And to make this night unforgettable, Capitol artistic director Junjet Primor prepared a program showcasing some of the best of the province’s festival dances, together with  a rondalla.

At a cost of only P100 for all the six museums (the others are Casa Gorordo Museum, Cathedral Museum of Cebu, Yap-Sandiego Ancestral House, Fort San Pedro and the Basilica del Sto. Niño Museum), some 30 tartanillas also brought tourists around these repositories of heritage at P50 throughout the night. Visitors therefore went around these museums once, twice and even thrice via these horse-drawn conveyances but paid the fee only once.

Accessioning/Cataloguing Block 21’s artifacts

•May 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Last May 6 to 8, archaeology students and volunteers from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at USCcarried out accessioning and cataloguing of the artifacts recovered from the latest archaeological monitoring of the SRP Tunne/Subway Project. The activity was conducted at the University of San Carlos Main Covered Walk, near the University Museum.

To recall, on April 21 to 25,  Block 21 of the SRP Tunnel Project, which traverses beneath Osmena Street and MacArthur Avenue along the intersection leading to Pier 1, was excavated using heavy equipment. Block 21 is one of the remaining portions of the planned tunnel set to be inaugurated early next year.

As part of the monitoring work, Kajima Construction Inc. informed National Museum of the coming excavation. National Museum in turn deputized me to monitor the excavation and collect as many artifacts as could be gathered. With a team of volunteer students and with the assistance of Tony Comaling of Kajima, four days of excavation using backhoe revealed colonial trash pits containing Qing dynasty ceramic sherds, glass bottles, and european ware sherds.

These artifacts were cleaned, dried and packed right on the site and were then sent to USC for accessioning two weeks later. A total of 1,006 artifacts were eventually accessioned and catalogued, adding to the existing artifacts database of Plaza Independencia, now reaching 11,597. This latest round started counting from artifact number 10,591 and continued the artifact count up to 11,596. Artifact counts started in 1985 during the Nishimura-University of Michigan Project which excavated portions of the plaza for the first time, hence the code name for the site VII-1985-F2 because the first excavations were done that year.

A few of the artifacts included in this latest accessioning came from Block 18 somewhere along Malacanang sa Sugbo site, or the old Customs House built in 1911. These artifacts are Chinese ceramics but of the Zhangzhou type (1520s-1600s or thereabouts), once called Swatow wares.

In general, the ceramics as well as glass bottles recovered from Block 21 are indicative of the late Spanis to Japanese Occupation period (1850s to 1940s), covering a hundred years of colonial artifacts that will now form part of the collection from Plaza Independencia that will be stored at Museo Sugbo, the new home of the National Museum Branch in Cebu.

Since only half of Block 21 has been excavated, the opening of the other half by the end of the month is eagerly awaited as this section is adjacent to the one opened in October 2008 that yielded burials and artifacts dating to the 15th-16th century.

I would like to thank my students  from the Department of Sociology and Anthropologyand volunteers at USC who assisted me in this activity:  John Monsanto,  Popoi Senajon IV, Ma. Cecilia ‘Masi” Cabañes, Karen Dereche, Xenia Fabe, and Jessa Beron.

Monitoring the Subway Project near Plaza Independencia.

•April 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Between 1892 and 1896, large stones were cut and hauled from the nearby mountains and rivers of Cebu for a pioneering ambitious project: a “terraplen” or reclamation of a section of the shoreline behind the Seminario-Colegio de San Carlos, then occupying for nearly three centuries one of the choicest spots in the capital town of Cebu: the beachfront property located to the right of Fort San Pedro and the central square—today’s Plaza Independencia.

The ambitious project was the brainchild of the beloved Vincentian priest Pedro Julia, whose fame (he was called the “Vincentian engineer”) and respectability was such that he was the only non-Filipino invited by Cebuano leaders in the negotiations for the terms of surrendering the town of Cebu to the Americans in 1899. He was also the longest serving rector (1888-1908) of San Carlos since the time it was passed on to the Congregation of the Mission or C.M., (popularly called Vincentians or Paulist Fathers after the order’s founder, St. Vincent de Paul) in 1867. It was under his rectorship that San Carlos grew in size and whence it opened its first bachelor’s program in 1891 that eventually facilitated the education of such Cebuano greats as Don Sergio Osmeña and Gov. Dionisio Jakosalem.

In an interesting sidelight to Padre Julia’s terraplen project, Gov. Gen. Eulogio Despujol approved it on condition that a portion of the Estancia in Mandaue (then owned by San Carlos) be donated to the government to serve as an agronomical research station. Today, Estancia continues to host a large research station of the Department of Agriculture.

Fast forward to April 22, 2009 and what is most probably a section of Padre Julia’s terraplen gave one backhoe a hard time excavating Block 21, one of the remaining portions of the Cebu Subway Project carried out by the Japanese conglomerate Kajima Construction. Located along the intersection of Osmeña Street (leading to Pier 1) and MacArthur Avenue, the neatly piled river stones cut across the western half of Block 21. To the east of the block, lay a swath of colonial period middens or trash pits suffused with nearly 3,000 broken Chinese and European ceramic pieces, and wine and beer bottles, some of which were complete (one even had its cork still attached!).

Such is the thrill that archaeology brings and I thank the National Museum for deputizing me to monitor the project and ensure that the archaeological materials beneath Block 21 are properly recovered and documented. Project engineer Hikonari Maeda of Kajima, together with personnel assigned to us, especially Tony Comaling, have also been most gracious in allowing my team to comb through the block, assisted by construction crew members and inspectors as well as personnel from the Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (CIIB).

Of course, as in Boljoon and Argao, I wish to thank NM curator Ederick Miano and my students who volunteered for this work that runs from 8 in the morning to 10 in the evening: Ma. Cecilia Cabañes, John Monsanto, Johnbert Roma, Popoi Senajon and Mc Victor Sumagang). Work continues and by late May we should be near the spot where burials were recovered in October. Let’s see what more surprises await us.

More gold, more puzzles from Boljoon

•April 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment
The gold chain worn by Burial 29, a female.

The gold chain worn by Burial 29, a female.

Teh gold necklace/chain afer cleaning.

The gold necklace/chain after cleaning.

Two of the four grave goods accompanygin Burial 29.

Two of the four grave goods accompanying Burial 29.

Some of the burials recovered in Boljoon during our fourth excavation season.

Some of the burials recovered in Boljoon during our fourth excavation season.

Our fourth excavation season in Boljoon has once again confirmed the town’s wealthy past with the recovery of a burial cache from a female individual (we call her Burial #29) dating to around 1550-1600, based on one of two datable ceramic accompaniments in her grave. The cache included a 1.1-meter long necklace, locally referred to as “inahas” (snake-like), comprising a 14- or 18-carat gold in loop-in-loop design. The gold weighs 136.4 grams and is estimated, using current gold prices, at P22,650.00. Its historical significance and archaeological value is, of course, immeasurable.

This is the fifth gold item recovered from the same site across the Boljoon Church and Convent which we have been excavating since 2007 in different month-long archaeological excavations. This one and the earlier gold pieces we recovered previously form part of the first ever on-site recovery of gold officially recorded by the National Museum—and all of them are from Boljoon!

What I find most intriguing is why the same burial was accompanied by an iron spearhead which was placed in such a way that it appeared to have been thrust downwards a mere two or three inches from the right side of the face. Near it was a covered powder box, probably used for storing lime and other materials for betel nut chewing, with an underglaze blue design of chrysanthemum sprays on its body and a lid design comprising an outline of a young Chinese boy carrying a puppet hanging on a string attached to a pole. This is reminiscent of rare and unique wares made during the reign of the Ming emperor Hong Zhu (1488-1505).

Another Chinese ware was recovered from this burial but unlike in the previous burials we uncovered, this one was not placed as a covering of the face. Instead, Burial 29’s head lay on top of an overturned ceramic dish with the usual standing phoenix underglaze blue so characteristic of common mass-produced ceramics called Zhangzhou wares, once called Swatow wares (ca. 1580-1600). If my reading of the date of the covered powder box is correct as I am certain of the Zhangzhou ware, then the discrepancy of 100 years between the two can only mean that the older item, the powder box, is an heirloom piece, perhas handed down to Burial 29 by her doting grandmother.

At a depth of a mere 60 cm from the current ground surface, the burials (there are four others in varying states of fragmentation and disarticulation) were too shallow to withstand the pressure from cars and trucks that normally park above during regular church services. My suspicion is that the ground as it appears today may have been much higher, perhaps even up to a meter in centuries past. Erosion and a possible bulldozing of this soil layer to fill an American-period road built over the old coast line about 50 meters east of these burials may explain the shallow location of these inhumations.

As in previous excavations, this shallowness has resulted in the skeletons taking the brunt of modern day activities above, like the digging of post holes for volleyball nets, a bleacher, or even to cordon off traffic during certain special occasions in Boljoon that involved these church grounds, heretofore the only town plaza before incumbent mayor Deogenes Derama caused the reclamation of the coastline across it to serve as a new windswept and very alluring park-cum-swimming area with a number of sea turtles to boot.

We have two weeks more to go but le me take this opportunity to thank the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of San Carlos for funding this research, together with the logistical support of the Municipality of Boljoon, the Cebu Provincial Government, and the Boljoon Heritage Foundation. Of course, no excavations would have proceeded without the gracious permission of His Eminence Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal and Fr. Milton Medida, parish priest of Boljoon.

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•September 9, 2007 • Leave a Comment

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