More gold, more puzzles from Boljoon

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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~ by archaeologue on April 29, 2009.

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