No Progress Yet Made To Rebury Ancient Guam Remains

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Historic Preservation Office says osteology report still needed

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, July 24, 2013) – On Guam, the reburial of two sets of ancestral remains found in Ritidian eight years ago remains on hold, pending resolution of a dispute between the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the State Historic Preservation Office over re-internment plans.

"I am just waiting for [NWR] to give us an acceptable reburial plan and adequate documentation," Guam Historic Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon said yesterday.

Aguon said she has not received any communication from NWR since it called off the July 20 reburial ceremony as demanded by the Preservation Office and the Department of Chamorro Affairs.

Aguon disputed NWR Manager Joseph Schwagerl’s claim that the Preservation Office failed to respond after the federal agency submitted a report in October 2005.

She clarified that the document received by the Preservation Office was an archeological discovery report and not the required osteology analysis.

In a Dec. 9, 2005 letter to Archeology Supervisor Mike Carson, Aguon sought a timetable for a report on osteology analysis.

Aguon said the Preservation Office did not hear from NWR since she sent the December 2005 letter.

When NWR made the plans for a reburial ceremony originally scheduled for July 10, Aguon reminded the agency that it could not proceed with the re-internment until the osteology report is released.

"That first reburial schedule was postponed because of our concern," Aguon said. "I conveyed to them my displeasure that they were proceeding with the reburial without proper documentation."

It wasn’t until July 13 this year that the Preservation Office received an "updated" osteology study prepared by Carson.

"We don’t have a record of having received this report before July 13. I have never seen this report before, and all of a sudden they sent us an ‘updated study,'" Aguon said.

The human skeletal remains that belonged to a woman and a child were found at the breadfruit-collection area in the refuge's Ritidian Unit in October 2005 after they had been disturbed in two of several pig-disturbance pits. They are believed to be 400 to 500 years old.

Aguon also noted that the report does not even contain dietary information and the possible cause of death of the woman and the child.

‘Inadequate beyond belief’

The Preservation Office has dismissed the July 13 osteology report as unacceptable based on a review by Dr. Gary Heathcote.

Heathcote, a biological anthropologist, wrote to John Mark Joseph, state archeologist with the Preservation Office, on July 15, recommending the rejection of the one-and-a-half-page report, which he described as "inadequate beyond belief," "a waste of time," and "should never have been taken seriously."

"A mere one and a half pages are given over to description, while the remainder consists of figures and those of the human remains are problematic in different ways," Heathcote wrote.

"Consistent with lack of information, there is no informed interpretation, no referencing of other works or contextualization of any sort, no production/presentation of standard data," he added.

Heathcote enumerated the several problematic issues with Carson’s report, including inadequate anatomical analysis, lack of detailed inventory of the remains, and lack of data on skeletal and dental morphology.

"Regarding my sense that the author is intent on expediting reburial of these remains, my considered opinion is that such action ... would literary bury the hard evidence that these human remains have not – to date – been placed in the hands of people who are competent to describe and analyze them," Heathcote said.

Unacceptable burial plans

Despite Schwagerl’s claim that the cancelled reburial ceremony was in adherence to Chamorro traditions, Aguon said the plan submitted by the Wildlife Refuge did not comply with the Guam Department of Parks and Recreation’s reburial guidelines.

Under the guidelines, "Reburial containers must be consistent with acceptable standards and specifications appropriate for archeological burials."

The agency performing the reburial is required to seek approval from the Preservation Office regarding the size, type and material of the container to be used.

"[NWR] could not even tell us the size of the container they will use," Aguon said. "They are reburying our ancestral remains, but said they don’t need to follow local guidelines because they are burying them in a federal land. So does it mean they can bury any remains found in their land any way they want?"

Aguon said her office has not encountered the same problem with other agencies that own properties where ancestral remains were found.

"They all followed the reburial guidelines," she said.

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