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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

More ancient human remains found at Ritidian project sites

More human remains from the latte period have been found at the NCTS/Marine Corps main cantonment area and are being analyzed by the state archaeologist with the Navy, according to State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick Lujan.

A joint informational briefing conducted Monday by Sen. Sabina Perez's committee on environment and Sen. Therese Terlaje's committee on historic preservation revealed that there have been 43 discoveries of culturally and historically significant sites since military construction started.

Significant findings on the discoveries will be released at a later time, Lujan said during the briefing.

The briefing discussed the significance of cultural landscapes that are being cleared at Magua for the Marine Corps main cantonment area and at Ritidian, also known as "Litekyan," for the construction of a live fire training range complex.

“I’m glad the SHPO and governor are being briefed on these findings, but I really believe the people of Guam deserve a timely briefing and may help us to protect these sites. Any information about our past belongs to all of us and should be shared with all of us timely,” Terlaje said during the hearing.

Lujan said his office is seeking to amend the 2011 Programmatic Agreement to emphasize preserving historic properties in place, particularly in the Northwest Field area, also known as Tailalo, where the largest firing range is proposed to be built.

Sen. Therese Terlaje

Terlaje noted that “preservation in place” is the true premise and intent of the Programmatic Agreement and has consistently called on the government of Guam and federal government to practice “preservation in place” versus data recovery which is removal of the historic artifacts and human remains. In January 2019, many groups joined together to ask the governor to prevent further destruction at the site of the live firing ranges.

Therese Terlaje

Archaeologist Mike Carson noted that Magua was a traditional village area. "There are a number of interpretations of how intensive it was used, but the bigger picture is that it is an important site where we have learned information about the past that we didn’t know before," he said. "And it also relates with a number of living traditions among families today who have their own memories and traditions that they have remembered. So, it is significant in a number of ways.”

As for Ritidian, Carson noted the archaeological diversity and historical wealth of the area.

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"You can look at every time period of Guam and of the Marianas Islands in terms of natural history and cultural history and how they interrelated, and everything is there in that one place," Carson said. "Not only that, but the full range and diversity of findings in terms of habitation sites, caves and rock art, water resources that changed in time, the type of food people ate, etc. Everything that you could want to study about the past is there.”

Dave Lotz, a member of the Guam Historic Preservation Review Board, said the numerous artifacts found throughout Magua and Ritidian must be looked at as a broader landscape and a larger CHamoru cultural landscape.

Terlaje said the government needs to do more lest Guam continues to lose opportunities to protect our cultural and historical sites.

"Loss of these sites prevents further interpretation of the interaction of cultural practices and the environment that helped our ancestors survive 4,000 years," she said. "Those future generations are relying on what our community does in the next few months as these projects continue to wipe out our cultural landscapes.”

Sen. Sabina Perez

“The clearing and degradation of Mågua is not just a cultural issue or a human rights issue. It’s also an environmental issue, as much as it is a public health issue,” Perez said.

“As the military is digging up these artifacts and burials of our ancestors, they’re also clearing large swaths of limestone forest which protect the integrity of our island’s main source of water, the Northern Guam lens aquifer. Protecting these resources in place is vital to both our heritage, and to our island community living today, and for future generations,” she added.

Perez said cultural preservation is intertwined with the protection of natural environment, especially where the military is pressing on with construction without the expressed will and consent of the people of Guam.

Community members also raised concerns about military buildup-related deforestation in Tailalo.

“The destruction of the high-quality, pristine limestone forest in Tailalo adds to the loss of one of the most endangered forest types in the world,” said Joni Quenga Kerr, a Guam Community College science faculty member.


“While the military pursues their forest enhancement project as a replacement for the lost forest, it will never be able to replicate nature’s project which took millions of years to create. Further, the destruction of our natural resources increases our people’s disconnection with our tåno, around which our ancestral cultural heritage was founded and developed,” Kerr added.

Participants at the hearing also discussed the availability and potential of non-invasive subsurface mapping technologies, which would help prevent the destruction of significant CHamoru cultural and historical artifacts and remains.

Professors Romina King and Jose Edgardo Aban discussed LiDAR, a mapping method which uses light to map the surface of the earth; and ground penetrating radar , which uses radar pulses to depict what is below the ground before any degradation would occur.

Perez is advocating for reform to the Section 106 process to allow for the meaningful and decisive involvement of the people of Guam in military activities

“The people of Guam must have a meaningful say in all matters affecting our environment and our heritage. Our connection to the land also comes with the responsibility of ensuring its protection. It is up to us to ensure the preservation of our irreplaceable natural and cultural resources," Perez said. “Mitigation should be of contamination not of our pristine sites.”

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