Where are the Potsherds? The Kids Got Them.

ResearchBlogging.orgMichael Schiffer emphasized the importance of the study of formation processes to better understand people-object interactions through time. In his book, natural and cultural processes (n-transforms and c-transforms as he called them) should be understood if we were to interpret the archaeological record.

The natural processes (or n-transforms) include weathering, erosion, natural disasters, chemical and biotic agents which structures the archaeological deposit. These natural processes need to be understood well because this has a bearing on the state of the archaeological record. For example, Schiffer mentioned that warmer and humid temperatures are conducive to bacterial and fungi growth, thus making certain artifacts in these contexts disintegrate faster.

C-transforms are transformations in the archaeological record brought about by human action. Examples of c-transforms are the following: discarding, recycling, heirlooms, and deliberate and accidental destruction. Some archaeologists, like William Walker, studied ceremonial trash to follow the material remains of religious behavior, suggesting that votive artifacts go through a different life history.

For this blogpost, I will be showing pictures of a children’s game that could perhaps be the reason why potsherds are seldom seen in some sites (OK, potsherds are the most visible of all artifacts. But please bear with me and hear my story on how kids may have reduced potsherd frequency in the archaeological record). I played this game as a kid with other children from the neighborhood (and so did my parents, grandparents, and perhaps several generations before). Until now, this nail-shining game is still played in some parts of my town.

The game starts with the collection of potsherds from the field. Usually, redder potsherds are preferred more because of the orange tinge it leaves on the nails. These sherds are then grounded to fine dust by pounding with a heavier rock. The small pile of finely grounded earth are then rubbed on the nails until it leaves a distinctive shine. This game can go on and on for several months in various households in Leyte. So, the next time Philippine archaeologists ask where the potsherds are, tell them the kids got to them first.

Below are photos of my cousins’ children playing the same game we played as kids:

Step 1. It starts with a broken pot and nail-conscious kids.

2. Pounding the Potsherd to Pieces

3. More pounding

4. Grinding to get the fine earth (used for rubbing on the nails)

5. After the rubbing, nice shiny nails.

6. Look! Shiny Happy Nails!

Walker, W. (1995). Ceremonial Trash? In Expanding Archaeology, edited by J. Skibo, W.H.. Walker, and A.E. Nielsen, pp. 67–79.

SC Unveils Landmark Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases

Philippine conservationists have found yet another legal weapon for the conservation of the country’s environmental resources. Legal experts believe that the SC’s rules of procedures for environmental cases will be an important “catalyst for sweeping environmental reforms.”

Below are some of the highlights as posted in the Supreme Court of the Philippines website:

1. The provision on citizen suits liberalizes standing for all cases filed enforcing environmental laws.  Citizen suits have proven critical in forcing government and its agencies to act on its duty to protect and preserve the environment.  To further encourage the protection of the environment, the Rules enable litigants enforcing environmental rights to file their cases as citizen suits. As a procedural device, citizen suits permit deferred of payment of filing fees until after the judgment.

2. The use of a consent decree is an innovative way to resolve environmental cases.  It allows for a compromise agreement between two parties in environmental litigation over issues that would normally be litigated in court, and other matters that may not necessarily be of issue in court.

3. An environmental protection order refers to an order issued by the court directing or enjoining any person or government agency to perform or desist from performing an act in order to protect, preserve or rehabilitate the environment. It integrates both prohibitive and mandatory reliefs in order to appropriately address the factual circumstances surrounding the case.  This remedial measure can also be prayed for in the writs of kalikasan and continuing mandamus.

4. Similar to the writs of habeas corpus, amparo and habeas data, the issuance of the writ of kalikasan is immediate in nature. It contains a very specific set of remedies which may be availed of individually or cumulatively, to wit – it is available to a natural or juridical person, entity authorized by law, people’s organization, non-governmental organization, or any public interest group accredited by or registered with any government agency, on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.

5. Another innovation is the rule on the writ of continuing mandamus which integrates the ruling in Concerned Residents of Manila Bay v. MMDA G.R. Nos. 171947-48, December 8, 2008 and the existing rule on the issuance of the writ of mandamus. Procedurally, its filing before the courts is similar to the filing of an ordinary writ of mandamus. However, the issuance of a Temporary Environmental Protection Order is made available as an auxiliary remedy prior to the issuance of the writ itself.

The pdf file for the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, can be accessed here.

Interesting Philippine Tarsier Facts

1.          Scientists are in agreement that the tarsier lineage may have been in existence at least 40 million years ago during the Middle Eocene. This is based on a 40 million year old material from Fissures A & C at Shanghuang of Jiangsu Province, China. A fossil tarsier, Tarsius eocaenus, possesses a dentition similar to the teeth of modern Tarsius. Another fossil tarsier, Xanthorysis tabrumi, was also found in a Late Middle Eocene Heti formation, Yuanqu Basin, Shanxi Province, China. The next oldest fossil tarsiid is the Afrotarsius chatrathi from an early Oligocene sediments of Quarry M of the Jebel Qatrani Formation of the Fayum Province of Egypt. A. chatrathi exhibits a fused tibiofibula which indicates a mode of leaping locomotion the same as that of modern tarsiers. An early Miocene form was also found on northwestern Thailand, the Tarsius thailandicus (Simons 2003; Jablonski 2003).

2.          Primatologists posit that Tarsius syrichta is perhaps the most recent among the modern tarsiers. Dagosto et al (2003:246) argue that given the geologic history of the Philippine Islands and the amount and placement of emergent land during the Cenozoic, dispersal of tarsiers to the Philippines is very unlikely to have occurred before the late Miocene, and may have been much later.  In the Philippine context, islands inhabited by tarsiers today were located farther east and south of mainland Asia during the early Cenozoic, with no evidence of land bridges connecting these islands to the mainland. Dagosto et al (2003) believe that tarsiers originated from mainland China and later on dispersed overwater to Sulawesi and the Philippines. The Philippine tarsiers may have migrated from Borneo through the Sulu archipelago, arriving sometime in the late Miocene to mid-Pleistocene.

3.          Tarsiers have been an enigma for scientists because they share characteristics with prosimians as well as with anthropoids. For example, when in estrus, females have red swollen vulvas like Old World Monkeys, give birth to one large infant, but on the other hand, they have multiple (four to six) nipples, similar to lemurs and lorises.  After a six-month gestation, newborn infants can weigh up to 25-30 percent of the mother’s weight; males provide little paternal care, unlike other primate species that have large infants.  Females “park” their infants on branches, while they forage nearby (Wright et al. 2003).  Tarsiers can turn their head 180 degrees in both directions (Ankel-Simons 2000), they have very long legs, their tarsal bones are elongated (hence their name) and their tibia and fibula are fused (Wright et al. 2003).

Field Researchers at Work (photo courtesy of Dennis Bait-it)

4.          Behavioral and ecological data on tarsiers in the wild is rather difficult to obtain due to their nocturnal activity, small size, lack of tapetum lucidum, fast locomotion, and social organization (Gursky and Nekaris 2003).  The increasing use of radio telemetry has facilitated the collection of data on these nocturnal and “cryptic” prosimians (Gursky 1998a).  According to Gursky and Nekaris (2003), there is a new group of scientists who think it is important to document species-level differences among nocturnal prosimians so that broader correlations concerning ecology and behavior can be discerned.

5.           Although there is a debate concerning the number of tarsier species, most researchers agree that tarsiers are represented and formally recognized by five speciesTarsius bancanus, the Bornean tarsier; T. dianae, Dian’s tarsier; T. pumilus, the pygmy tarsier; T. spectrum, the spectral tarsier; and T. syrichta, the Philippine tarsier (Dagosto et al. 2003; Gursky 2002; Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002; Dixson 1998).  These species are grouped into two distinct phenotypic groups: the Philippine-Western group, from the Philippines and Borneo; and the Eastern group, from Sulawesi (Brandon-Jones et al. 2004).  Tarsiers have a limited geographical distribution in a few Southeast Asian islands (Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002).  Tarsius bancanus is found in Borneo and some parts of Sumatra.  T. dianae, T. pumilis, and T. spectrum are found in Sulawesi.  Dian’s tarsier is restricted to Sulawesi’s central lowlands, the pygmy tarsier to the central part of the island, and the spectral tarsier to the northeastern part of the island (Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002).  The Philippine tarsier is restricted to the Philippine islands of Bohol, Leyte, Samar, Maripipi, Biliran, Dinagat, Siargao, and Mindanao (Neri-Arboleda et al. 2002).

6.          According to Neri-Arboleda et al. (2002), there are several field studies of T. bancanus, T. spectrum, and T. dianae, but very few of the behavior and ecology of T. pumilus and T. syrichta (see also Dagosto 1998; Dagosto et al. 2003; and Wright 2003b).  There is not sufficient data to precisely determine the social organization of the Philippine tarsiers (Dagosto et al. 2001).  Because they have not been well studied in the wild and there are limited published observations regarding their ecology and behavior, T. syrichta is currently classified as “data deficient” by the IUCN-Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN website 2004).  Neri-Arboleda et al (2002) suggest that because of this lack of information on the Philippine tarsier, its status as “data deficient” should be maintained until further studies are done.

7.          A nocturnal habit makes possible the exploitation of uniquely nocturnal food resources and avoidance of diurnal predators. Modern tarsiers lack a tapetum lucidum but have a well-developed fovea in the center of an all-rod retina, where visual acuity is concentrated and visual image is intensified because of the dense arrangement of visual receptor cells (Jablonski 2003). Their dentition, which is almost similar in structure to that of the fossil tarsiers, favors a strictly insectivorous or carnivorous diet. In the wild, tarsiers prefer large bodied coleopterans and arthropods. The molars of the tarsiers are suited to breaking the exoskeletons of insects and the skeletons of small vertebrates, efficiently consuming the fats, protein, and carbohydrate-rich tissues of their prey by digestion.  Energy expenditure for the tarsiers is minimized by its low basal metabolic rates (which is 65% for the Philippine tarsiers) and low body temperature. Although this has not been studied yet, I also suspect that energy expenditure is minimized by daytime torpor, also observed among spectral tarsiers (Dagosto 2003; Gursky 2003).



Wright, P.C., Simons, E.L., and Gursky, S. 2003. Tarsiers: Past, Present and Future. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Neri-Arboleda, I., Stott, P. and Arboleda, N.P. 2002. Home Ranges, Spatial Movements and Habitat Associations of the Philippine Tarsier (Tarsius syrichta) in Corella, Bohol. J. Zool., London 257:387-402.

Gursky, S. 1998. Conservation Status of the Spectral Tarsier Tarsius spectrum: Population Density and Home Range Size. Folia Primatologica 69: 191-203.

Gursky, S. 2002. The behavioral ecology of the spectral tarsier, Tarsius spectrum. Evolutionary Anthropology 11: 226-234.

Gursky, S. and Nekaris, K.A.I. 2003. An introduction to mating, birthing, and rearing systems of nocturnal prosimians. Folia primatologica. 74: 241-245.

Beard, K. C. 1998. A new genus of Tarsiidae Mammalia: Primates from the middle eocene of Shanxi Province, China, with notes on the historical biogeography of tarsiers. Bulletin of Carnegie Museum of Natural History 34:260-277.

Tarsier-viewing in the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, Corella, Bohol

Philippine Frogs Face Potential Mass Extinction

Posted at the National Museum of the Philippines website:

The scientific name of this fungus is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). Studies have shown that Bd causes a pathogenic skin disease in amphibians called cutaneous chytridiomycosis. This disease has been linked to mass mortalities of frogs in many countries in North, Central, and South America and in Australia. Scientists have also found that chytridiomycosis, interacting with other environmental factors, may have triggered the recorded massive decline of many frog populations in those countries, and worse, have caused the extinction of several species.

Initial results show the presence of chytrid fungus in five species of frogs from two localities in Luzon: Mt. Palaypalay (in Cavite Province) and Mt. Labo (in Camarines Norte Province). These were Limnonectes macrocephalus, Limnonectes woodworthi, Rana similis, Rana luzonensis, and Occidozyga laevis. Species of Limnonectes are commonly called “fanged frogs”; both the species of Rana are “stream frogs”, and Occidozyga frogs are commonly known as “puddle frogs.” All these frogs are associated with aquatic environments and are especially found in mountain streams and fastflowing rivers.

The fungi under the microscope:

The fungi causing frog extinction and species decline in Panama:

Sir David Attenborough on the global amphibian crisis:

A two-part video on the effort to stop the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus. This fungus is capable of killing 90% of the frog population in over a month.

To read more on the news release and related topics, click below:

Killer Fungus Discovered in Philippine Frogs

Philippine frogs


Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (fungus)

Amphibians May Develop Immunity To Fatal Fungus

The Filipino in the Discovery of the Giant Lizard

We all received the news that a team of herpetologists has been scouring the Philippines for new lizard species in the past ten years. LiveScience reported that the researchers went on a two-month expedition in Luzon after seeing photographs of local hunters with a six-foot long lizard. Named after its local name (bitatawa), the fruit-eating komodo-like saurian is now known in the scientific community as Varanus bitatawa.

BioOne revealed there were four other new lizard species discovered by the team: a limbless species of a scincid lizard of the genus Brachymeles from Mt. Labo, Bicol Peninsula; a medium-sized Sphenomorphus from the island of Palawan; a new species of Luperosaurus from Mt. Mantalingajan of southern Palawan Island; and another scincid lizard of the genus Brachymeles from the Luzon Faunal Region of the northern Philippine region.

While I am glad that new species have been brought under the scientific gaze, I noticed an obvious disparity in the reporting of the event. The international news credit the discovery (of bitatawa) to Dr. Rafe Brown and his graduate students in the University of Kansas while the local news (i.e., Philippines) give more space to Dr. Arvin C. Diesmos of the Herpetology Section of the National Museum of the Philippines. This differential treatment of the news agencies (reporters and, yes, bloggers) on whom to quote betray their construction of what constitutes “scientific authority.”

If we briefly scan through the reports of the bitatawa discovery, one can glean the representation of the Filipinos in the mind of the reporters. The only Filipino ‘voices’ we have are as lizard-eating tribal hunters and exotic bearers of knowledge of the lizard’s location. Here is a news report’s quote on Rafe Brown: “People had taken photographs of hunters from the resident tribespeople as they were carrying the reptiles back to their homes to feed their families in 2001.” I am not disputing the fact that this did happen. Many Filipinos do consider lizard meat as an alternate protein source–one could say, a more varied protein diet than what you have in many cultures. What I take issue however is the failure to put this food practice in context, which I believe  further alienates and exoticizes the already marginalized Sierra Madre indigenous groups.

Another point is the muting of the Philippine researchers’ voices in the international media when even a University of Kansas graduate student can have a say on the discovery. Nowhere can you find expert interviews from local scientists–who, truth be told, know more about the habitat of Varanus bitatawa and the conservation needs of the species. The only place you hear from them is in the Philippine mass media  in spite their knowledge of the discovery. Consider this interview of Dr. Diesmos, a local expert, over at Inquirer.net, a local Philippine newspaper:

Diesmos said his group had yet to determine whether the species was in danger of extinction. “We are concerned about the fact that it is found in low-level forest areas that are prone to encroachment by humans.”

ResearchBlogging.orgIt is an important species for the Philippines, especially since it is a forest species. It highlights the need for us to preserve its habitat. Otherwise, we might lose it as well as the other species. It highlights the fact that the Philippines has a very unique and very complex biodiversity,” he said.

The politics of science is all too clear in the reporting of this discovery. Truth be told, I am a huge fan of international research collaboration projects, having been involved in some similar (though smaller) endeavour. I admire scientists working as one, rolling their sleeves, to advance public knowledge. My beef really is when science (or the reporting of it) mirrors the same global inequalities we find everywhere.

Perhaps, the unreported skink and geckos are apt metaphors for the Filipino scientist’s position in the global stage. They exist but news agencies find them uninteresting.


To read more about the other lizard species, click here:

A New Legless Loam-swimming Lizard (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae: Genus Brachymeles) from the Bicol Peninsula, Luzon Island, Philippines

A New Species of Scincid Lizard (Genus Sphenomorphus) from Palawan Island, Philippines

New Forest Gecko (Squamata; Gekkonidae; Genus Luperosaurus) from Mt. Mantalingajan, Southern Palawan Island, Philippines

New Loam-Swimming Skink, Genus Brachymeles (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae) from Luzon and Catanduanes Islands, Philippines

Welton LJ, Siler CD, Bennett D, Diesmos A, Duya MR, Dugay R, Rico EL, Van Weerd M, & Brown RM (2010). A spectacular new Philippine monitor lizard reveals a hidden biogeographic boundary and a novel flagship species for conservation. Biology letters PMID: 20375042