TIGHARs on Tinian 6

November 12, 2004
5 p.m., San Jose Village, Tinian

Trowel work
Trowel work at the Naftel site. Photo by Tom King.
By the time we reached the site this morning – it’s only about half a mile from the hotel, up a bit of a terrace just outside town – the guys from the local government had already set up big canopies and were bringing in picnic tables on which to spread out gear and set up water jugs and such. Mike knows how to run a dig.

Mike and others plotted the route of the old road from which Mr. Naftel says he saw the graves, while Naftel himself and Bob Silver confirmed the locations of the two depressions they’d located last year. We then ripped out the last of the vegetation over an area 4 meters on a side embracing the two depressions, which were pretty apparent once the veggies were gone. Mike wanted to maintain their integrity, so we excavated within them, rather than digging squares across them. Mike put Randy in charge of “Pit One,” me in charge of “Pit Two.” Hiro and his students arrived, and we had more than enough people to dig, haul, and screen. After Marilyn Swift and some of the students did a contour map of the area, we were ready to begin digging.

Excavation was primarily by trowel, though Randy also used a cut-off entrenching tool he’d gotten years ago for digging pithouses in the Southwest. In essence, we troweled everything loose into dustpans, thence to buckets, which were carried downslope to the screens. Mike took charge of the screening most of the time. Marilyn did notes, kept track of level bags (though we didn’t really have “levels” to dig, as it turned out), and generally kept things organized. Kar screened and stood by to deal with bones.

pit feature
Pit feature at the Naftel site. Photo by Tom King.
To cut to the chase – no bones, except a mouse bone or two in Pit Two. A few prehistoric artifacts – late prehistoric plainware sherds, a stone pounder fragment – and a few pieces of bottleglass and very thin aluminum, but that was it. Bedrock – highly contoured coral limestone, old reef surface – appeared at between ten and thirty centimeters depth, with holes and gaps going down to perhaps fifty cm. in places. We cut a one-meter extension off Pit Two to the northeast and then extended it to the southwest to connect up with Pit One – same results.

Meanwhile, a number of us had been eyeing a sort of ridge or berm that extends across the site more or less parallel with the limestone cliff face, and the more we looked at it the more we became convinced that it was bulldozer spoil. Then (as I understand it from Mike’s rather shorthand account), Carmen Sanchez, the Tinian Historic Preservation Officer, located a guy who’d farmed the area, who said that yes indeed, there’d been bulldozing in the area. Whether the site of Pits One and Two was bulldozed isn’t clear, but there’s certainly been dozing in the very near vicinity.

Mike also wonders whether Mr. Naftel might be mistaken about exactly where he was on the road when he saw the graves, or exactly where the road ran, and whether as a result the graves might be farther down the slope, below the berm in the lower field next to the existing road. So he brought in the tractor and mower again and had the area cut. Nothing leaped out and hit us in the face, except what looks like another low berm running diagonally across the field, with some big coral blocks in it, more or less aligned with the old road. Maybe the old road itself, maybe a bulldozer windrow, maybe nothing.

All the government’s backhoes are broken down, but Mike scored one from the privately operated quarry, and it’ll be on site tomorrow morning. We’ve exhausted the specific locations identified by Mr. Naftel, and are now down to testing the general area. The current plan is to begin by slicing through the big berm and getting a handle on its stratigraphy, and what it can tell us about what’s been done in the area. Then probably some trenching across the lower field, and maybe elsewhere. Tonight, we’re all invited to dinner at Carmen’s cousin’s house – a Chamorro feast with lots of fish and beef, red rice and other good stuff.

Video cameras were everywhere today, and although we haven’t exactly been swamped by CNN and Fox News, there’s been a steady flow of media folks. The Mayor stopped by, and later his office brought food and drinks. Police guard the entrance, and are keeping watch on the site tonight. There were repeated light rain squalls, but with the canopies they presented no problem.

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