TIGHARs on Tinian 7

November 13, 2004
5:30 p.m., San Jose Village, Tinian

Naftel Site
Clearing the lower field at the Naftel site. Photo by Tom King.
The machine Mike had gotten, which was waiting for us at the site at 8:30 this morning, could be called a “backhoe” only in the most euphemistic way. It was a HUGE Hitachi excavator with a bucket about two meters across, piloted by one of the most skilled operators I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. It seems counterintuitive, but generally speaking, the larger the machine the better, for archaeological work, provided the operator knows what he’s doing, and this guy – who’d worked with Mike, Randy, and Marilyn on a couple of cemetery projects – certainly did. He could remove grass without disturbing the ground; he could cut the ground in 5 cm. levels. Wonderful guy.

He began by stripping the upper part of the lower field to bedrock, carefully monitored by at least two or three archaeologists at all times. The clay soil turned out to be only about 20 cm. deep, over coral limestone. Meanwhile Hiro’s students dug into the berm, from which he’d stripped vegetation, finding lots of WWII era bottles, Japanese porcelain, even a woman’s shoe (the source of some hilarity, but it looked to be from the ’50s). Then the excavator operator turned his attention to the berm, cutting it apart in neat chunks.

Meanwhile, Carmen had come up with a report that there’d been another Japanese road down through the escarpment besides the one Bob, Jennings, and Mr. Naftel had traced out, so I bushwhacked off down the cliff face with a couple of the HPO guys to see what we could find. We found a couple of already known Japanese caves and the remains of what looked like a 4 or 5 year old meth lab, but that was it; the cliff was sheer but for the area just behind the site. If the old road wasn’t where Naftel recalls it being it was close to the escarpment, literally across where we’re digging, and the graves would have been up in the scree at the base of the cliff, which seems unlikely.

By lunchtime the excavator had stripped the whole area we’d dug the day before, all with negative results. After lunch we began on the lower part of the lower field, and pretty soon things changed. The bedrock ended and we found ourselves stripping into reddish brown beach sand. Mr. Naftel gestured to me to come over. “That’s what was on top of the graves!” he said, pointing at the sand. Which makes sense; the sand would be a whole lot easier to dig in than the coral bedrock.

And very soon the excavator exposed a more or less circular dark stain about a meter and a half across – a pit of some kind. Mike was concerned that we were running short on time; he had the excavator only for the day, and had to restore the ground to more or less its original contours. But he said to go ahead and strip as much of the area as we could, and asked me to take charge. Experienced reef fisherman that he is he’d obviously seen the clouds building up. So everyone but me huddled under the canopy as the rain began to bucket down, and I stayed out like a fool following the excavator operator as he stripped the field.

In the end we found two pit features, both quite shallow, more or less circular, and empty. Almost certainly prehistoric earth ovens or storage pits. Marilyn and the students mapped them in as the HPO guys did measured sketch maps and collected soil samples. The excavator stripped virtually the entire lower field, and went to work backfilling and smoothing the landscape back into shape.

I can imagine more things to do, but it seems to be the consensus that we’re done; to do more would be shooting in the dark. So we gathered under one of the canopies, there were various speeches of thanks, and we packed up and adjourned. There’s another party at still another of Carmen’s relatives’ house tonight. Tomorrow we’ll all begin heading for home, except for those who live here.

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