ANCIENT CHAMORRO MAN ON DISPLAY IN SAIPAN

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By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Jan. 12) – He might have been wiped out and forgotten for centuries, until the remains of his body were excavated in 1925. His human form has since been reconstructed, providing researchers rich information about how he lived during the ancient times, filling up gaps in the history of ancient Chamorros while triggering more questions at the same time.

A reconstruction of the head and neck of the Chamorro man, approximately 50 years of age and is believed to have lived during the 16th-17th centuries, has been on exhibit at the CNMI Museum of History and Culture on Saipan for over three years.

He is called "Taotao Tagga" — The Man of Taga.

His facial features, scars, dental injuries and bone structure, among others, provide anthropologists a glimpse into the ancient man’s life, including the kind of work that he did as well as his medical history that sparks anthropologists’ interest in the Chamorro’s people’s ancient medical practices.

Dr. Gary Heathcote, an anthropologist at the University of Guam, said analysis of Taotao Tagga’s skull and partial skeleton was done using a science-based method with a humanistic approach.

"Its ultimate objective is to produce an ‘osteobiography,’ a story of his life history, based on what is recorded in his bones and teeth," Heathcote stated in his draft research report titled "Taotao Tagga: Glimpses of Life History, Recorded in His Skeleton."

Heathcote, a professor at UOG’s Anthropology Resource and Research Center, said the examination process made it "immediately apparent" that Taotao Tagga "fought off the grim reaper on the occasion of a very serious injury to his face."

"The wound, it is clear, healed completely. The evidence for this is the presence of newly formed bone at the sites of the injury à that is completely smooth and lacking any tell-tale indication of either ongoing bone remodeling or active infection at the time of his death. Because of the completeness of the healing, the injury must have been sustained some years prior to his death, perhaps when he was in his 20s or 30s," Heathcote stated in his report, which he said he hopes to be able to finalize and make available for distribution by the end of January.

Heathcote said Taotao Tagga was buried at Taga, Tinian, where Hans Hornbostel, of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, excavated the remains in 1925.

Heathcote had a brief chance to examine the ancient man’s skeleton in 1990 when it was in the casting process and housed at the Bishop Museum. Taotao Tagga’s remains were then labeled and cataloged as BPBM 881/ Burial 8363 from Latte 28-5-24, Taga site.

At the behest of the CNMI Historic Preservation Office, according to Heathcote’s report, the skull of BPBM 881 was shipped to Diane France’s casting laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Healthcote said a mold for reproducing replicate casts was completed in 1998 and the skull of Taotao Tagga was returned to the Bishop Museum and eventually repatriated to the CNMI in 1999.

Replicas of this man’s skull are now available to regional and international museums, researchers, educators and cultural preservationists, Heathcote said.

Heathcote said a working version of his full report, without illustrations, is now available to anyone interested.

Heathcote plans to reproduce illustrated copies in the form of a spiral-bound non-technical report issued by UOG’s Anthropology Resource & Research Center. He is seeking support from anyone who may be interested in helping defray the production costs.

January 12, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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