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Ancient human remains found at site of new US military base in Guam prompts investigation

Mar-Vic Cagurangan in Hagatna
·3 min read

A Guam senator has launched an investigation into a US military base being built on the island after ancient human remains, as well as ovens, tools and pottery from an ancient village were found at the proposed site.

Senator Telena Nelson, chairman of the legislative committee on historic preservation, is launching an inquiry into the construction of US Marine Corps Camp Blaz in the village of Dededo in northern Guam.

This week the committee held a community roundtable and an oversight hearing to look into the status of burial sites and human remains at Camp Blaz.

The military base, which is yet to be completed, will be home to 5,000 US Marines who will be relocated from Okinawa to Guam. Blaz partially opened in October 2020 but construction activity continues, with approximately 16 ongoing projects.

But the Guam State Historic Preservation Office reported that nearly a dozen ancient human burial sites – dating from between 1,500 BC to 1,000 AD – have been discovered in separate construction spots at Camp Blaz in the last year.

Last July the preservation agency reported that besides ancient remains, archeologists had also dug up mortars, earth ovens, tools, pottery and other artefacts from a site identified as the ancient village of Haputo.

“It is important to remember that this construction site is not only the site of the future Marine Corps Base, it is a living museum containing significant Chamorro artefacts, remnants of the ancient village of Måguak (Magua’), and the remains of our ancestors who lived and were laid to eternal rest there,” Nelson said.

“As more remains of our ancestors have been uncovered after centuries of undisturbed peace, it is only proper for our people to engage our spirit of inafa’maolek and extend our cultural practice of showing respect.”

The disturbance of significant cultural sites on Guam resulting from defense expansion has been one of the key triggers of conflicts between the military and the local community.

Related: Soil to build new US airbase on Okinawa 'contains remains of war dead'

“I think it’s really a disgrace on the part of the military for making it known that our community’s values aren’t being taken into consideration,” said Dr Moneka de Oro, a local activist, adding: “Our agenda is to remind our ourselves that this land is sacred; we are the protectors and defenders of this land. No matter who comes and no matter what flags raise, the people who have the strongest connection to our land are the indigenous Chamorro people.”

Anthony Ramos, a spokesman for the US navy, said it adhered to a protocol for archeological discoveries at project sites.

“All work in the vicinity is immediately halted and the discovery is reported to a Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz archaeologist to schedule a site visit,” Ramos said. “Once the site is confirmed, the area is cordoned off and protected by a temporary fence.”

He said the Guam State Historic Preservation Office was notified with within 48 to 72 hours and construction remained suspended until investigations were completed and reported to Guam SHPO.

“We will continue to ensure a responsible construction process through extensive joint efforts with the government of Guam, federal/local agencies and institutions to build upon more than a decade’s worth of investments and interagency planning,” Ramos said.

Throughout the construction period, he said, “numerous significant cultural resources have been preserved in place or avoided during the collaborative planning phase of the Marine Corps relocation”.

Carlotta Leon Guerrero, Guam’s historical preservation officer, said her office was yet to finalise its report on archeological discoveries at Camp Blaz.

“There is a ton of information on the internet about so many other burial sites on Guam,” Leon Guerrero said, in response to Nelson’s request for information. “There is a lot of information out there that is not well known and could help inform people hungry for knowledge about our ancestors.”