Monday, February 25, 2013

Australia-based researchers find centuries-old human burials on Tinian

Dr. Mike Carson, left, and CNMI Historic Preservation Office’s Gilbert Borja, right, are seen working at a site near Taga House on Tinian in this Dec. 2011 photo.  Contributed photo
Dr. Mike Carson, left, and CNMI Historic Preservation Office’s Gilbert Borja, right, are seen working at a site near Taga House on Tinian in this Dec. 2011 photo. Contributed photo

AN excavation near Tinian’s Taga House where, in the 1950s, Fr. Marcian Pellett found a deeply buried ancient archaeological site has turned up centuries-old human burials.

Dr. Mike T. Carson and Dr. Hsiao-chun Hung from Australian National University in Canberra are back on Tinian to continue their work at the site where Fr. Pellette uncovered finely decorated pottery — the earliest produced in the Marianas.

Carson told Variety yesterday, “We are examining the earliest habitation of the Mariana Islands. One of the earliest sites is about 100 ft inland (north) from Taga House in Tinian.”

He said, “As we dig downward through layers of sediments, we uncover materials from older and older periods of time. Those near the surface are the most recent. Those from the deepest layers are the oldest.”

Carson said the upper layers contain evidence of human burials. “In one of the upper layers, we found remains of human burials. The associated layer is roughly the same age as the Taga House, about 400-600 years old.”

Comparing these upper layers with the deeper layers, Carson said, “In the deepest layers we do not find any burial remains. In these deepest layers, we find evidence of ancient habitation by people. We found the remains of wooden house-posts, hearths for cooking, many broken pieces of pottery and other artifacts, and remains of shellfish and fish bones. This oldest layer is about 3400 years old, about equal with the oldest settlement of the islands.”

Carson and Hung were on Tinian in 2011 conducting a study of the decorated pottery and early settlements in the region and as they sought to offer a new perspective on Pacific islands archaeology.

For their latest work, Carson said they will remain on Tinian for the next three weeks.

“We will continue at Taga House for the next three weeks. It is a continuation of our previous research,” he said.

Based on Carson’s and Hung’s work at the Taga House and other sites, the oldest known sites in the Marianas are about 3500-3400 years old.

“With our continuing research, we are learning more about the time people first lived in the Mariana Islands, as well as the first time any people lived in the remote Islands of the Pacific. Other remote islands of the Pacific were first settled by people slightly later than in the Marianas, about 3200-3000 years ago,” said Carson.

He also told Vareity that at Taga House and a few other sites, they will be able to see “the first contact between humankind and the remote oceanic environment.”

Carson and Hung will be sharing the progress of their study in a public presentation at the American Memorial Park that is being arranged by the Northern Marianas Humanities Council.

The presentation is tentatively set for March 16.

Carson and Hung began their work on Tinian on Dec. 5, 2011 and left on Dec. 28, 2011.

Carson earlier described for Variety the extent of their work and their worksite in the House of Taga area.

In a previous interview, Carson said that the uppermost layer contained remnants of Japanese and other recent materials.

Underneath this layer, Carson said, was an ancient occupation layer associated with the time of latte-building and the nearby House of Taga site, tentatively dating somewhere in the range of 1,000 through 300 years ago.

Carson said that further below this layer were other more ancient layers containing different types of pottery and artifacts.

Carson says at the deepest cultural layer there is finely decorated pottery known to represent the earliest successful settlement in the Marianas about 3,500 years ago.

“The decorated pottery helps in understanding relationships between the Marianas and other regions 3500 years ago,” Carson told Variety in a previous interview.

The Australia-based archaeologists are working closely with the Historic Preservation Office on Tinian.

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