Part of the $20 to $30 million Guam Hotel Okura expansion project is suspended after Chamorro ancestral remains were unearthed.

On Nov. 28 2005 the Guam Hotel Okura announced plans to spend between an estimated $20 million and $30 million to expand and add new areas to its existing facilities. (See "Outlay at Okura; Renovation to cost $20 million-plus" in the Nov. 28 2005 issue of the Journal.) In September during the first phase of this project 18 ancient Chamorro human remains were found along with cultural remnants dating to at least 3 000 years ago.

Part of the $20 to $30 million Guam Hotel Okura expansion project is suspended after Chamorro ancestral remains were unearthed.

Although construction work outside the perceived boundary of the settlement continues development at the exposed site was suspended to allow for a proper archaeological assessment.

Finding these shoreline artifacts and remains is no surprise as it is widely known that Tumon Bay was one of the island’s largest Chamorro settlements prior to Spanish contact. "Every property built in Tumon has run into materials " according to Lynda Aguon Guam’s state historic preservation officer. Aguon said the remains of those 18 found are currently in the possession of PHRI Inc. a Hawaii-based cultural resource management firm. She said that once examined and cataloged in a lab the ancestors will be sent back to Guam for a re-interment burial.

According to David DeFant senior archaeologist for PHRI the total extent of the prehistoric deposit has not yet been determined. DeFant told the Journal "Based upon some of the pottery shards we’ve recovered it is clear that occupation of this site extends back to at least 1 000 BC. It is likely that the site was at least periodically occupied from that time through the 17th century." In June prior to the beginning of construction subsurface testing confirmed that the Okura expansion project was on an area with a high concentration of cultural materials. The results of these investigations were then reported to the Guam Historic Resources Division. It was not until mid-September that the settlement site was uncovered approximately 100 yards from the shoreline and five feet from the surface.

Recovery activity is expected to continue into October. As of press time more than 30 remains were excavated and DeFant said there is a high probability that more will be found. He stressed that these excavations happen only after it is determined that the remains cannot be preserved in place. Ancient Chamorro buried their dead underneath or next to their houses and this area at the Okura has so far revealed at least one structure along with pieces of pottery shell and basalt tools and shell ornaments. An osteologist who may be able to assess what the ancients ate and what the general condition of their health may have been is expected to arrive on Guam in Oct.

Meanwhile the project will remain on track according to Mark Day director of Guam Resorts Inc. which does business as the Okura. Day told the Journal "Our intention is to work together with the necessary parties as is legally expected and based upon what is culturally proper for the re-interment. We will do our utmost to allocate an area and design that will show the proper respect." Taking a broader perspective he said "Even with time and money considerations if there is room to be flexible or if plans can be adjusted to keep discovered burials in their place this would be the best approach for managing projects in these types of areas."

Although Guam law requires re-interment expenses to be covered by the developer the associated settlement artifacts will need to find a permanent home. The planned Guam Museum of Culture Art and History a $2.1 million project would be the ideal location. The Guam Museum Foundation continues to report progress as it recently received a $50 000 USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant and a $265 000 transfer from compact-impact funds. "Within the next 12 months we will hopefully break ground. This depends largely on finding a source of funding that will be directed specifically to the construction of the museum " David B. Tydingco museum foundation president said.

Until then Tydingco who is also president of the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association told the Journal that the possibility of expanding the museum’s current presence at the Micronesia Mall may help give the project the increased visibility it needs. Nevertheless the lack of a permanent facility with a climate-controlled room will continue to be a preservation issue for fragile artifacts.

These materials hold significant representation of a culture. This is not only of critical value to the native people of Guam it is also something the island’s visitors have repeatedly expressed interest in over exit surveys done by the Guam Visitor’s Bureau. If the projections are realized about increased development in the coming years the need to have a clear plan is timely if these artifacts and those yet to be found are to be publicly honored.

To help give future visitors knowledge about the Chamorro people culture and history Day said the Okura is open to the possibility of working together with the Guam Museum Project. If feasible "It could be another opportunity to address and properly preserve any cultural and historical significance from the Okura site " Day said.

Aguon said Guam law requires any type of grading plowing or digging to be approved by the Historic Resources office. "We don’t want to stop plans but we can. We just want people to follow the law " she said. "Any type of land clearing needs a permit from us; this is something that people over at [the Department of] Public Works even forgets." Any type of historic or prehistoric cultural material that is found needs to be reported. The importance of this process according to the SHPO is to document and map artifacts to come up with more accurate probabilities about the existence of cultural deposits around the island.

Any type of artifact found needs to be reported and preserved if we are to learn anything of Guam’s remaining ancient settlements. MBJ