To continue celebrating heritage month, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) collaborated with Tuklas Pilipinas Society in organizing a virtual discussion titled “Umpukan sa Nayon: A Discussion on Archaeology and Cultural Education During Changing Times.”
Framed through the perspective of those working in the culture and heritage sector within Southeast Asia, the majority of the speakers invited were different archaeologists and researchers from the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia.
Hosted by Andrea Natasha Kintanar and Kristine Kate Lim from Tuklas Pilipinas Society, each speaker took turns in sharing their experiences and the challenges they are facing during this pandemic. The most common issue was that of limited movement. With most of their activities and projects (field research, excavations, etc.) requiring on-site presence, the process in which they did things had to be amended.
Archaeologist Thippawan Wongadsapaiboon from Thailand mentioned how the protocols for social distancing have greatly affected the progress of their work. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was ordered that all projects with more than five participants had to be cancelled and for them, it meant that 50% of their activities for the entire year had to be called off. She added that for excavations they used to employ 10 to 15 locals from the villages to aid them as they are more familiar with the area. However, this cannot be done anymore as they had to limit and avoid the number of people gathering at a single location. Likewise, because curfews have also been established, tasks that their team could normally accomplish in a day now has to be postponed because they need to be back in their respective homes at a certain time. Even surveying sites has become difficult.
However, struggles such as these did not hinder our speakers from seeing a silver lining and continuing what they can.
“[A] good advantage from the lockdown is now we have more time to write reports and research,” Wongadsapaiboon noted. She also mentioned that their team has begun setting up social media pages wherein they plan to upload content every week. It will share the information they have gathered on archaeological sites, results of past excavations, and photos of artifacts.
JC Salom, Officer-in-Charge of the Cagayan de Oro City Museum, supplied that they have been slowly shifting to an online platform in their presentation of their collections. With the goal of sharing local heritage and making it more accessible to the public, Salom believes that this endeavor will be supplementary to the online learning protocols being implemented this school year. “…since they could not see the artifacts physically so at least they could learn from our local history via social media platforms,” he explained.
SEAMO SPAFA Senior Specialist in Archaeology Noel Hidalgo Tan who mans the organization’s website, also shared how he has been releasing online lectures and visuals to continue engaging their audience.
“I think as archaeologists, we always, kind of like, worship fieldwork a little bit too much,” supported Agni Mochtar, researcher from Indonesia. She explained that archaeologists often get too excited about fieldwork and forget how it is just a small aspect of their duty. Writing reports, establishing narratives, interpreting data—essentially communicating history to the community—are also important parts of their job. “If we go without excavation for three or four years, I think we still have plenty of data to analyze, to interpret, and I’m not worried at all,” she added.
To further explore the possibilities of using different tools in presenting artifacts and information online, Dr. John Peterson discussed the ArcGIS StoryMaps platform. As he shared his screen to show how the program works, he explained that this can be used to share information not just locally but also globally. As a software that allows people to integrate not just photos and videos but also custom maps in their texts, Dr. Peterson emphasized that it “will be a really great tool for not only organizing our research, [but also for] organizing historic maps, organizing data from the area and organizing environmental information.”
There was further emphasis put on organizing research and communicating results to the public with Mochtar explaining that “[it will be good] to have more Southeast Asian archaeology articles [written] by Southeast Asians.”
The hosts summarized the discussion with Lim acknowledging that as researchers and archaeologists, most of them admittedly have an extensive backlog when it comes to reports and data. While the situation was difficult for everyone, she mentioned collaboration as the key that could aid them in going through this pandemic. And not just collaborative efforts with each other, but also partnering with other industries as well—using other creative platforms as a means to distribute knowledge products.
“I think we actually need to go beyond our discipline and look into ways of how we partner. How do we survive this without being alone in this world,” she said.
Umpukan sa Nayon is a multi-sectoral consultation session held by NPF as part of its mandate (P.D. 37, 1972) to engage the public for consultation and to enliven conversations.