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Ancient remains returned to Guam after four decades in a California lab

Guam's State Historic Preservation Officer Patrick Lujan (middle) holds the repatriated remains of an ancient CHamoru woman. With Lujan are Steven Mandeville-Gamble, chancellor’s designee for NAGPRA, and Megan Murphy, UCR repatriation coordinator Photo courtesy of Guam SHPO

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

The remains of an ancient CHamoru woman have been shipped back to Guam after languishing for 42 years in a California laboratory, where they were examined.

The 2,000-year-old remains were recovered from the Tarague area, the site of a major archaeological project in Yigo between 1980 and 1981.

A sample of remains was sent to the UC-Riverside radiocarbon dating lab, where it confirmed the age.

The lab was decommissioned in 2003. However, it wasn’t until the last few years that the college’s staff found a large number of ancestral remains and artifacts – mostly Native American Indians.

Guam and the CNMI were part of the inventory.

Guam’s State Historic Preservation Office and the University of California-Riverside coordinated the repatriation of ancestral remains to Guam over the weekend.

“This is a very honorable mission that UC-Riverside is undertaking,” said Patrick Lujan, Guam state historic preservation officer. “They have taken the wrongs of the past and are making it right.”

Lujan worked closely with Megan Murphy, UCR repatriation coordinator, in the last few months to coordinate the transfer.

“We are just so happy that the CHamoru ancestors get to go back home,” Murphy said. “They shouldn’t have sat here for so long. They belong back home.”

The archaeological excavations in the 1980s, spearheaded by the University of Guam, led to the discovery of nine levels of cultural deposits in a depth of nearly 5 meters. It was the deepest archaeological find in the Marianas to date.

The significant Tarague archaeological project involved long-time Guam archaeologist Darlene Moore, who back then was a student taking field class under Dr. Hiro Kurashina. Moore doesn’t recall the ancestors being transferred off island at the time.

Now 85 and retired, Moore is glad the ancestral remains have made it back.

“Thinking about that project brings back fond memories,” Moore said. “I didn’t know they sent off the remains. I’m just so glad that you’ve brought them home.”

Working with Murphy and her team at UCR, SHPO Lujan has already gained some leads on other Guam cultural resources that are within the UC system and will work to repatriate them as well.

Along with the 2000-year-old woman, more recent remains dating about 100 years from a Talofofo project were also returned.

The repatriation efforts were paid fully by UC-Riverside.

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