Digging Part of our Philippine Past (Literally): Bringing Back an Abandoned Pueblo

I had the rare privilege of visiting a genuine Philippine archaeological exhibit.  Rare because who among us gets to be invited to see  the result of a 3-week archaeoligical dig during one's lifetime, especially in the Philippines? Do real people like me even know someone who actually does this kind of job?

My wife and I braved a seven hour round trip from Quezon City to San Juan, Batangas just to see the site and the brilliant team for less than an hour.  We left the office past 1:00 in the afternoon and the bus rolled from Kamias past 2:00 PM.  My wife was actually on her way back to the office after lunch break when I whisked her off to the bus station.  She needed no forcing.  She had her umbrella and my ATM card.  

I was worried we wouldn't reach the place on time.  The Exhibit opens at 4:00 PM and ends at 6:00 PM.  The exhibit was originally on a comfortable 1:00-4:00 PM Sunday schedule but was postponed due to the heavy rains of typhoon Bebeng.  Yes, typhoon in May.  Now I had to skip a half-day's work and chase daylight since this was naturally an outdoor exhibit.  We were still in San Pablo at past 4:00 PM.

What's so special about this trip?  What's so special about this exhibit?  Head over to this official San Juan Archaeological Project website for photos and details.  The site features the project's 2009 and 2010 digs.  The exhibit we were racing to see is the result of this year's work on a house they call "Structure B".   Everything we were about to see were not yet posted on their website.

Briefly, this archaeological site used to be an established pueblo but was transferred to another place in the town due to flooding.  Hence, the barangay's name:  Pinagbayanan.  The church, convent and the stone houses of the principalia were moved to the new pueblo's location and over time all the structures disappeared, except for a few stone formations jutting from the ground.  Without an historical background and the digging made by the field study teams one would have no idea that there used to be a pueblo that existed in the place.

After the long bus ride and a long rented tricycle ride, we finally arrived a few minutes before 6:00 PM as darkness was approaching.

Look at that WAP on the bus windshield.  Free Wi-Fi, guarded by Sto. Nino. :-)

Coli, one of the archaeologist-students explaining how they arrived at a model reconstruction based on their dig

Explaining how they determined that stone blocks perpendicular to the wall would have been  the main entrance of the house.  Notice the heavily weathered blocks by her feet, evidence of constant wheeled or heavy traffic.

Our archaeologist-friend :-), Ena, explaining that everything we see is a result of their own manual digging of the trenches.  I believed her by simply looking at her recently tanned arms and face.

Melo, another archaeologist-student, explaining the depth of the posts and the materials used in construction.

My wife, Nerissa and  Ena with two of the four remaining posts and the people of the community in the  far background.  Ena explained that the front of the house/structure was most probably a later extension because of the thickness of the walls between the front and the back part of the structure.  Isn't this typical of us Filipinos, building house extensions as our families and/or wealth grow?

Posing before the official banner as darkness closes our barely 30 minute tour.

Some articles dug from the site --  pottery (looks like Philippine and Chinese); American period plate; fork and other items such as a branding iron (confirming the fact that the owner of the house was a cattle raiser)

I am still floored at the thought that this small and far community that's void of any permanent looking structures used to be an established pueblo with its own stone church and convent, and at least 5 bahay-na-bato houses.  In the absence of the new black and white National Historical Commission marker on the site of the church and convent and the two excavated house structures one wouldn't have any clue that this place used to be an established pueblo.  I could spend hours imagining how everything looked like during its day, how people went about their daily lives.  How magnificent these fields are, Archaeology and Ethnography.  How praise worthy these young students and professor are for all their work in literally digging our country's pride and past.

Our hired tricycle was waiting so we didn't get to have dinner with the team, nor witness their program and lecture for the community that night.  We only briefly met the rest of the team and their professor who flattered me by suggesting we consider enrolling in the future.  Ena introduced us as among her friends who encouraged her to pursue this graduate course.  Ena, just watching the result of your work makes me proud and accomplished already. :-)

On our way back to the bus station, we were entertained by the driver of our rented tricycle from Pinagbayanan to Candelaria with his stories of frightening encounters with ghosts and pointing at two other old houses that were dug for treasure.  This seems to confirm what Ena said about evidence of  treasure digging in structure B of their site.  She said that people in the area believed that treasure were hidden by rich principalia under the stairs of their houses.

We were not prepared for a night trip on an air-conditioned bus so after dinner at Chowking Candelaria (which is incidentally a bus stopover when I go to Bicol) we went back to Quezon City via an ordinary bus.

It was a tiring Tuesday -- frantic office work in the morning and a long round trip from afternoon to almost midnight, but it was so much worth the expense and the effort.  Hurrah to the diggers of our national treasures.  I hope I would be privileged enough to visit your upcoming Cebu field study.

As a side note:  you may want to read this short and inspiring biography of a poor boy from the province who left the province with a report card and became the renowned F. Landa Jocano and this short academic requirement I wrote about one of his works.  And here's a post on Philippine Ethno-astronomy.

Update:  Aug. 21, 2011 Philippine Daily Inquirer Feature on this archaeological field study.
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  1. meron pala ganyan sa pilipinas...kala ko "extinct" ang archeology sa atin. nice find aboy! sana cave man naman o kaya dinosaur mahanap...hehehe.

  2. yup, aldrin, meron niyan sa pilipinas. hindi "extinct" ang archaeology sa atin, paumpisa pa nga lang e. :-)

    at ang cave man naman, sa tabon cave at sa Callao cave ng Cagayan meron pero hindi nga lang buong tao. may blog ako dapat sa callao kaso no time to write it yet. :-)

    dinosaur? sana. pero elephant tusks meron sa Bolinao. :-)


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