Saipan Casino Developer Supports Archaeological Project

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Exhumation of Charmoru burial sites to be conducted

By Dennis B. Chan

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, March 11, 2015) – Best Sunshine International, Ltd.’s archaeological project in Garapan would involve entering 18 burial sites and exhuming the remains of ancient Chamorros.

The CNMI Historic Preservation Office has approved both the inventory survey and discovery report, and planning document for the data recovery and burial treatment, according to letters to BSI in February.

Archaeologists David Perzinksi and Dr. Michael Dega of Scientific Consultant Services Inc. prepared the studies, which were done last year at the request of Best Sunshine and N15 Architects.

According to their report, a copy of which was obtained by Saipan Tribune, the study area’s surface had been extensively disturbed prior to the current project, from previous commercial and scientific study. Jungle had taken over the entire parcel.

Fieldwork on the current study was done from Oct. 27 to Nov. 13, 2014, with Dega as the principal investigator and Perzinski as the project supervisor.

Twenty eight-meter long trenches were excavated across a representative portion of the project area, minus a previously excavated hotel footprint and a small wetland location.

A Latte Period cultural layer was found in 16 of the 20 sites.

Human remains representing five individuals were found in four of the trenches.

Two sling stones, a fishhook tab, and multiple Latte Period earthenware pottery fragment were recovered.

Partially intact burials and two isolated fragments were also found.

On top of the four burial sites, HPO noted 12 remaining burials in the former hotel site in the area.

All cultural materials collected during the research were transported to the University of Guam-MARC for lab analysis. All human burials and isolated fragments were left "in situ," per HPO requirements.

Overview

The dig site is located in the center of Garapan and measures 41,000 square meters or 10.1 acres.

The Fiesta Resort & Spa Saipan at north and ABC Stores and other businesses to the south bound the site.

In previous studies, materials like pottery were found dated back to the Spanish era missionary period of the 1600s.

The site had been excavated previously for a hotel, but the information from this dig was not available to the current study.

In 2004, Swift and Harper Archaeological Resource Consulting, or SHARC, had found a Latte Period to Spanish Mission period village, dated from AD 1400 to 1600.

The SHARC report was not available to the recent study.

Prior to the study, modern disturbances to the cultural layer leftover from the Spanish missionary period were expected. This period was prior to the Spanish-Chamorro wars and forced relocation of surviving Chamorro to villages on Saipan, Rota, and Guam.

Construction materials from the refurbishing and/or construction of the now-named Fiesta Resort were found, from some 21 years ago.

"Not only were construction materials from this development found during the current project in the northern sector, the backhoe crew…soundly stated that the neighboring hotel disturbed much of this project area (baseyard) and also buried extraneous construction materials here," the study noted.

Human remains

When human remains were identified, personnel halted all work immediately and consulted with HPO. They remained untouched, according to the report.

The project documented four distinct stratigraphic layers. "Stratum III" contained a variety of cultural materials.

In backhoe trench 5, a previously disturbed human femur shaft fragment was found.

In backhoe trench 14, two burial sites were found. The first revealed fragmented fibula and metatarsal remains displaced. The second found fragments as well, but when compared to the size of first discovery, it is believed they are separate individuals.

Burial No. 1 is believed to represent a juvenile Chamorro individual, and burial No. 2 represents an adult Chamorro.

In backhoe trench 17, remains of an articulated tibia and fibula and femur were found, and a disturbed metatarsal shaft. The remains appear to be that of sub-adult individual, the report noted.

Other than human remains, the project found Latte to historic period artifacts, like sling stones or fishhook tabs that suggest daily existence.

One trench suggested a possible house site, as did others.

No latte stone elements were found, according to the report.

Proposed work

BSI’s planned construction work "would involved large-scale ground disturbance and excavations that would affect underlying cultural deposits, both intact and previously disturbed."

Three teams of three archaeologists on a full-time basis would man the data recovery.

"At present, there are 18 known burials present in the project area, and likely more, which would, with HPO permission, be removed and secured in a safe storage location near the site," the study noted.

Remains would be wrapped in muslin and placed together in a basket for storage.

No photographs will be taken of the remains, only drawings, it was assured.

The work would be completed in a 68-day window, given weather conditions.

Other cultural deposits would be secured and stored as well.

Disturbed soil will remain on site and be backfilled after the project is done, to allow for a "clean site" for construction to proceed quickly with fewer unexpected setbacks.

Some 220 square meters will be excavated each day, it was proposed.

HPO has since found the plan acceptable, with minor edits, that include onsite storage and security procedures, public education and outreach opportunities, and potential interpretative and internment measures that can be taken after fieldworks is done.

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