Sunday, May 22, 2011

Marinduque Treasure Troves

15th century Ming Dynasty junk, Fengshou

Yogi’s Treasure Hunt is an animated cartoon about treasure hunts around the world by a fictional bear, Yogi Bear and other interesting cartoon characters. One episode highlights the evil Greed Monster who steals all of the toys in the world and it is up to Yogi Bear and friends to hunt him down and return the toys to their rightful owners.

A Chinese junk, 1644-1648)

But speaking of treasure hunts, a venture between the National Museum and Marine Archaeology Unlimited, Inc. (MAUI), a private outfit, resulted in the excavation of a shipwreck site in 1982 on the southeast coast of Marinduque located 39.65 meters below the surface.

A local fisherman from the coastal barangay of Pinggan was the acknowledged finder of the site where, using no diving equipment, he managed to retrieve many ceramic pieces and sold them dirt cheap to anyone interested, not knowing the true value of those pieces.

He eventually succumbed apparently due to hypoxia and never knew that the importance of his find would reverberate in the corners of museums, antique shops and private rooms.

Right where the hobie sails lies the shipwreck 40 meters under

The sunken vessel was believed to be a Chinese junk carrying “stoneware jars and covers, porcelain plates, dishes, saucers and bowls” dating back to the Ming dynasty. The stoneware jars recovered were brown-glazed with relief dragon designs similar to those archaeological finds in some of the island’s caves.

Early 17th Century junk of Zheng He

Years later, the site was re-excavated purportedly to verify if more archaeological data could be generated from this site, right in the middle of Gaspar Island and the coast of Pinggan, that should have resulted in the publication of a report. Said report should also have included information on terrestrial archaeology in the island of Marinduque.

This was also to determine the role of Marinduque in the early maritime trade network in the Philippine archipelago. (Maritime Archaeology, Babits and Tiburg).

Kangxi Emperor, 1654-1722, on the deck of a junk ship.

As regards the artifacts being dug up in Bahi (Gasan), today, questions are being asked as to who now owns the treasure trove found there. Who would take on the role of Yogi Bear and Greed Monster, if any? It appears that there are existing Treasure Hunting Laws in the Philippines already covered by the Civil Code that states:

“Art. 438. Hidden treasure belongs to the owner of the land, building, or other property on which it is found.

“Nevertheless, when the discovery is made on the property of another, or of the State or any of its subdivisions, and by chance, one-half thereof shall be allowed to the finder. If the finder is a trespasser, he shall not be entitled to any share of the treasure.

“If the things found be of interest to science of the arts, the State may acquire them at their just price, which shall be divided in conformity with the rule stated.

“Art. 439. By treasure is understood, for legal purposes, any hidden and unknown deposit of money, jewelry, or other precious objects, the lawful ownership of which does not appear.”

A Ming dynasty plate.