Pre-Contact Remains From Saipan Casino Site To Be Reburied

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Bones unearthed during construction to get proper reinternment

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 23, 2015) – The 332 human remains probably from Pre-Contact Period found at the ancient village of Anaguan — more recently known as Samoan Housing Complex — where Best Sunshine’s Grand Mariana Casino and Hotel Resort is being constructed will be given a proper reburial according to the community’s consensus, Best Sunshine legal counsel Viola Alepuyo said on Friday.

Alepuyo, along with Imperial Pacific/Best Sunshine senior vice president Tao Xing, visited the Lower Base storage where these remains and other artifacts are temporarily kept in a temperature- and humidity- controlled environment.

Alepuyo said: "Whatever we do with the remains, the community will have an input. It’s absolutely necessary to give the public a voice."

[PIR editor’s note: Saipan Tribune reported that ‘Best Sunshine International, Ltd. gave some of its employees and the media on Friday a sneak peek at the archaeological artifacts that have been unearthed at their site in Garapan.’]

She said Best Sunshine is waiting for the results of the remaining radiocarbon dating and DNA tests of the specimens before they proceed with consulting the public regarding a proper reburial.

She reiterated that they are only temporarily holding these artifacts and remains until all results are back and these will then revert to the Historic Preservation Office.

In so far as locating a place to reinter the remains, Alepuyo said Best Sunshine has communicated to HPO about it.

"We have to listen [to the public.] We have to give them an input. These are their ancestors, too."

Scores of labeled and wrapped boxes containing artifacts and ancient remains are kept in a storage in Lower Base rented by Best Sunshine.

"Everything is stored here," said Alepuyo, adding that there is one radiocarbon dating test and one DNA test remaining.

"We want to share the results with the public. We can’t do that without HPO’s permission. We were hoping to do that in October but the results are not back yet," she said adding that it is premature to meet with the public when there are still tests being conducted.

Pre-Latte and Latte periods

Among the interesting finds in what was referred to as the largest archaeological dig in Saipan history is a ceramic bowl 3 feet in diameter.

Alepuyo said when the archaeologists unearthed the bowl, it was upside down and it covered the remains of a child with other remains at its periphery.

Also found was a "lusung" —mortar and pestle — that was used to pound rice or other food items.

In addition, stored in boxes stacked one after the other were pieces of Latte period pottery, sling stones, and fish hooks, among other artifacts.

Pre-Contact Marianas is divided into three periods: Pre-Latte, Transitional Pre-Latte and Latte.

Latte stones are the megalithic monuments of pre-contact times in the Marianas.

The site found in the Samoan Housing area is believed to be not older than 1,000 years old.

Variety learned that there were also bottles and other artifacts associated with the Japanese administration or pre-WWII eara.

Dr. Mike Dega of Scientific Consultant Services Inc., which is based in Hawaii, led a team of experts that conducted this archaeological data recovery from April 6 to June 29, 2015.

Alepuyo said prior to the dig, "we had a ceremony — we want to pay respects."

She said there was a Carolinian ceremony before a Chamorro ceremony was performed.

For the dig, Best Sunshine spent about $2 million.

Alepuyo said what made the dig complicated was the fact that the site was riddled with bombs and Best Sunshine later had to seek the assistance of the U.S. Navy to get rid of unexploded ordnance.

There have been several archaeological studies done at the site prior to Best Sunshine’s proposed construction of a casino-hotel.

A previous dig commissioned by Nakamoto Corp., which was planning to build a 461-room, 21-story hotel at the site, unearthed 263 human remains, Latte Period pottery, shells, Contact Period artifacts, among others.

But the Nakamoto investor failed to finish the project owing to financial difficulties and its footprint is only a fraction of the survey conducted by Best Sunshine.

By the conclusion of the work in June this year, the over four hectares of land in Garapan had been fully excavated.

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