TIGHARs on Tinian 3

November 9, 2004
5 am, Saipan

As my class on Guam wound down yesterday, University of Guam archaeologist Hiro Kuroshina appeared, bearing maps for me to bring along to Tinian today, all copied from the files of the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC), with which he’s affiliated. One is a pre-World War II map of Tinian, showing what was there when it was essentially a sugar cane plantation with processing mills and a complex of light gauge railroad lines. Another is a relatively modern topographic map, and the third a detailed 1956 map of roads, runways, and other facilities. He showed me where the putative grave site is – on the southwest side of the island, overlooking old Tinian Town (now San Jose Village), Tinian Bay, and Pepeninguro Bay. We discussed excavation strategy. Hiro’s idea, which I think is a good one, is to cut a vertical trench at one end of the target area to get a handle on the stratigraphy, and then to strip back from the trench.

I was also able to spend some time talking with Epiphano Cabrera, the CNMI Historic Preservation Officer, and his associates Genevieve Cabrera and John Mark Joseph – John Mark is the CNMI staff archaeologist. As a condition of their permit to excavate, they’re requiring that an HPO staff member be on site during the work. I questioned the realism and necessity of this policy, considering the density of archaeological and forensic expertise the project will be putting on the ground, but it’s my expectation that we’ll be able to work things out. They can’t be at the site today, Thursday, but neither will Hiro and his students, so we wouldn’t be able to get serious excavation started anyway, and will need to spend the time getting organized, clearing the site, and laying it out in preparation for a fast start on Friday.

The CNMI folks kindly took me to buy some gear I’d forgotten to bring, and then delivered me to the airport, where Kar Burns arrived awhile later on Continental Flight One from Honolulu, looking a bit stunned after 16 hours or so in the air, but still standing. We boarded the little puddle-jumper shuttle to Saipan, and landed here at about 2030 last night. Scott Russell collected us in his pickup – Scott is basically the father of historic preservation in the CNMI, organizer of the historic preservation office, now program director of the Marianas Humanities Council, a historian by training with a great many publications on Marianas history under his belt, and incidentally a famous spear fisherman. We drove down to the beach on Saipan’s lee side – where the Marines came ashore 60 years ago – and had a beer (well, I was a good alcoholic and drank water); Scott told stories of the early days of Micronesian historic preservation, and Kar slowly sank into the west. Lights twinkled offshore – chartered military supply ships, Scott said, loaded to the gills with equipment for the troops and pre-positioned to support – well, whatever. Scott bemoaned the fact that he could no longer fish the reef in their vicinity. “They open up on you with .50 caliber,” he chuckled. Up then to our digs at the Stanford Hotel – a basic sort of island facility, cinder block and tile floors, functional aircon – where Kar slid gratefully off to her room and I tried for awhile to call home – a long and largely fruitless effort. Now after a good enough night’s sleep, the roosters are beginning to crow, and it’s time to get organized for the jump over to Tinian.

Impression: There are quite a number of different interests represented in this enterprise – St. John Naftel and Jennings Bunn, who naturally are believers in the Tinian burial hypothesis; Jim Sullivan and Bob Silver, who’ve had a lot to do with putting the project together and developing support for it from sponsors like Continental Airlines, who are enthusiastic about the project but not necessarily believers in the hypothesis, Hiro and his students, looking to do some interesting archaeology and (in the case of the students) get some training, folks like Kar and me, and presumably supervising archaeologists Mike Fleming, Marilyn Swift, and Randy Harper, here to do a good, objective piece of research, and the HPO staff concerned about quality control and protecting the government’s interests. I anticipate a certain cat-herd quality to the work, at least initially, but hope everyone can work together effectively.

This morning if all goes well we’ll fly over and meet Mike – well-known as the first Northern Marianas resident of indigenous descent to become a fully qualified professional archaeologist, and an old friend of mine – and his associates Marilyn and Randy, as well as Jennings and Mr. Naftel, who should be on Saipan by now, and Jim Sullivan and Bob Silver who should be on Tinian. We’ll get checked in at the Fleming Hotel, transmit this to TIGHAR Central if it’s possible, and get up to the site and start getting organized. Assuming things go according to plan, which is, of course, very, very unlikely.


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