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Inland heritage site

The area known as Manenggon Hills is more than 1,300 acres that encompasses the Leo Palace golf course and resort, condominium and housing developments, as well as undeveloped lands in the municipality of Yona.  Manenggon is mostly known for its historical significance as a site of the World War II concentration camp where thousands of Chamorros were placed in the last few weeks of the Japanese Occupation of Guam, and some of whom had remained the year following the Liberation of the island by American forces.  However, Manenggon and the adjoining area known as Pulantat, are comprised mostly of land that is still undeveloped which contains a wealth of significant cultural resources for the people of Guam.

Archeological surveys

The most extensive, recent archeological survey of the area was conducted in the late 1980s, early 1990s by Dr. Rosalind Hunter-Anderson and others at the Micronesian Archaeological Research Services (MARS).  The survey was performed at the request of Miyama Development, Inc., previously known as Miyama Guam, Inc., when plans were proposed for the construction of the Leo Palace.  Initial surveys in the area, though, were conducted by Hans G. Hornbostel of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the 1920s, and later in the 1940s by Douglas Osborne and Fred Reinman in the 1960s.

The limestone landscape of the northern plateau of the island differs dramatically from the volcanic hills in the south.  Archeologists speculate that the ancient inhabitants of Manenngon/Pulantat in the southeast-central part of the island, with its fertile soil, likely were able to cultivate a variety of food plants as well as to take advantage of the abundance of other plants to meet medicinal needs or for use in building.  In the Pre-Latte era, small gardens and encampments for collecting food could have been utilized for harvesting while the majority of the population maintained permanent residences elsewhere on Guam, such as along the coast.  Reliable sources of fresh water from small rivers and streams are also more abundant in areas like Manenggon hills, where the Manenggon River and the Ylig River flow nearby.

By the Latte Era (around 700-1600 AD) the presence of latte stones (foundations for houses and other structures), pottery, lusong (or mortars) and other archeologically significant artifacts indicate this area was more permanently settled.  In fact, Manenngon/Pulantat has numerous, relatively better preserved latte sites, although much damage has been done to the sites over the years by natural forces and modern land alterations from various contemporary construction projects.

In the Spanish Era (1668-1898), the area had a few small ranches and was used for cattle grazing and planting fruit trees.  Spanish colonization and missionization activities had forced the Chamorro inhabitants to move to more centralized locations set up by the Spanish.  The nearest parish district at this time would have been Pago on Guamʼs east coast, and it is presumed most of the residents of the Pulantat/Manenggon area were relocated there after the Chamorro-Spanish wars ended in 1695 .  Little is written about native use of the land through the 18th and 19th centuries, but the area was probably utilized by hunters, foragers and travelers making their way from the southern villages to the capital of Hagatna.  Trails through some of the interior lands connecting some of the islandʼs villages and ranches were created by these movements.  By 1856, a typhoon destroyed the church in Pago and a smallpox epidemic decimated the population and Pago was essentially abandoned.

In the US Naval Era (1898 to 1941) the Manenggon/Pulantat area remained largely undeveloped.  Some trails continued to exist, but were not clearly mapped out. People had probably begun moving into Yona decades earlier, establishing small farms and raising cattle and carabao.  Navy Lt. Governor William Safford noted in 1899 that there were farms, coconut, taro, yams and fields of corn and tobacco; another observer in 1926 declared Yona was known for its oranges.  In 1915, a school was built in the village to accommodate the growing population.

During the Japanese occupation (1941-1944), just before the American invasion in July 1944, the land in Manenggon became the site of large concentration camps for the Chamorro people.  The Manenggon camp was the largest on Guam with as many as 15,000 occupants, and was set up on both sides of the Ylig River.  According to oral accounts of the experience, on the march to Manenggon, the Chamorros were divided with some sent to Pulantat, and some to As Lucas in Talofofo.

After the war, with most of their homes destroyed, the US military opened a refugee camp in Manenggon, which they renamed Yona Camp. Thousands stayed there for a time and slowly returned to their farms when the war officially ended in 1945.

According to one of the survey reports by MARS, much of the land in this area had been the property of Francisco B. Leon Guerrero, who had used the land to plant mango and avocado trees.  By 1960, developer Dwight Look purchased the land and began to clear it to plant orchards.  He fenced the boundaries of the property and bulldozed narrow roads.  He attempted to raise hundreds of cattle but was unsuccessful.  Look later permitted the US military to use the land to conduct training maneuvers.  Some of the old Army tanks that remained on the land from World War II were used for target practice.  In more recent years, the land has been accessible to the public, largely for recreational purposes such as hiking or off-roading.  In the 1990s, the Leo Palace resort was constructed and now occupies an extensive area of Manenggon Hills.

Hunter-Anderson, et al. described the sites in Manenggon Hills as roughly comprised of 85 prehistoric sites in all–all small except for one medium and one large site.  The sites included open areas and enclosed rock shelters, and were categorized depending upon the amount and kind of cultural deposits and surface features that were present.  Eleven of the 85 sites contained intact latte sets or ruins of once-intact sets.  Isolated shafts (or bases) and capstones were recovered from five sites, and it was unclear if they were indeed a part of any latte set at all.  The Manenggon latte sets also exhibited a variety of compositional materials, unlike the predominantly limestone latte sets found in coastal areas.

Some of the Manenggon latte were made of sandstone, which was easier to smooth over, while others were of heavily pitted limestone.  Though not of the best quality, limestone latte were probably selected because they were easier to carry.  The use of lower quality limestone could also reflect a groupʼs socio-political circumstances that might have limited their access to higher quality materials.

The latte also varied in shape–some had cylindrical shafts, others rounded rectangles, but most were irregular with wider bases and narrower tops.  The large hemispherical capstones, such as those found in coastal sites like Urunao in the north and Mepo on the southwest interior, were not present in Manenggon.  Shaft heights ranged from .50 to 1.30 m.

The MARS archeological team considered the possibility that the Manenggon latte sets may not have been used to support structures at all.  Given the quality of many of the sets and the effects of erosion, it seems the builders may not have been concerned with the ability of the stones to support a structure.  Because latte stones, in and of themselves are unstable structures–the capstones are not cemented or adhered in place, but rather, are balanced precariously upon the bases–it raises questions about the sequence of events regarding the construction of latte and the occupation of a particular site.  The archeologists questioned, did people build the latte first, use the land periodically, then later in their history, occupy the sites more permanently? Or did they occupy the sites and then later build the latte?

Hunter Anderson, et al., furthermore questioned if the latte stones perhaps represented a kind of marker that allowed ranked social groups to express or legitimize their claims to specific pieces of land without having to resort to warfare.  The size of latte in Manenggon contrasts with the larger more well constructed latte in Pulantat. Perhaps, the small latte sets in Manenggon represented lower-ranking groups wanting to assert claims to various resources, as less labor and materials were needed for their construction.

Mortars (lusong) of sandstone, basalt and limestone have also been found in the Manenggon area.  These large stones were probably meant to be set in place and not transported from one site to another, and were likely used to process rice and herbal medicines.  Other finds in the Manenggon site included postholes, fire-pits, manmade limestone wall formations and earth ovens.

Numerous burials have also been found in the Manenggon area, some associated with latte and others at non-latte sites.  Hunter-Anderson and her team of researchers have described some observations of some of the burials found in six sites in Manenggon.  Nearly all the burials were shallow, found at or near the ground surface.  The majority were women, and a considerable number were young women.  Archeologists propose that this observation reflects the notion that younger people might have been best able to survive the challenges of life in the interior.  In addition, as childbirth is a dangerous process, it is not surprising that significant numbers of young women may have died early.

Archeologists also noted that burials in the interior did not reflect similar treatment to burials in the coastal settlements. No cave burials were observed, and while some burials were associated with latte sets (as usually seen in coastal settlements), there were inland burials that occurred without latte sets.   Cached bones within a midden deposit was also observed and may represent a different kind of mortuary complex not found in coastal burials.  But like coastal settlements, there was also evidence of long bones and skulls having been removed from some of the burials.  Some explanations or scenarios may rely on the differences in social ranking of interior populations to the coast, or circumstances of death.  In general, it is believed the lower-ranking Chamorros lived in interior villages.  Perhaps it was inappropriate to transfer lower ranking individuals to be buried on the coast.  Higher-ranking persons who may have died in Manenggon could also have been exhumed and reinterred to coastal sites if not immediately.  Such reburials could have just involved parts of the skeleton.  Secondary burials were seen in both interior and coastal sites suggesting that these people shared a set of common social and religious beliefs.

Based on evidence from carbon dating, the Manenggon area was probably used by ancient peoples as far back as 1600 years ago, but was not used heavily prior to or during the early years of the Latte era.  However, occupation and use increased by about 1200 AD to its heaviest use at about 1400 AD, well before the arrival of Spanish and other Europeans.  The lack of features in more recent centuries indicate lower usage and the eventual abandonment of Manenggon by the early 1700s.  Archeologists speculate that people may have shifted to the coast to take advantage of trading opportunities with European galleons.

The Manenggon latte are relatively small compared to latte around the island.  The presence of marine resources reflect access to the sea and possibly indicate that traditional group territories of the ancient Chamorros must have included a variety of resource zones, extending from the coast to areas further inland. Both latte sites and non-latte sites in the Manenggon area also show that this area was used for a wide variety of cultural and survival activities and as sites of interior settlement system.

South Pulantat Latte Complex-RCA parcel

The South Pulantat Latte Complex-RCA parcel is comprised of about seven acres of land at the northeastern corner of the present Manenggon Hills development area.  It is a recorded National Register prehistoric site with high potential cultural resource value.  Several prehistoric localities have been identified.  These include four intact to partially intact latte set structures; two substantially disturbed latte set locations; one isolated basalt mortar; one isolated chert cobble (a remant of tool-making); and one midden concentration in an 800 by 500 foot triangular-shaped property.  This last feature was located at the extreme northeastern corner of the Manenggon Hills development.  The name of the area is derived from the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). The presence of the South Pulantat Latte Complex Site 66-09-37B, a National Register prehistoric site, was described by Fred Reinman in 1965 and discussed in his 1977 report on archeology of Guam.

The Pulantat area in Guamʼs southern uplands lies between the Pago River and the Manenggon fork of the Ylig River.  The terrain is primarily volcanic and has remains that date to the late prehistoric Latte period occupation.

The first record of latte remains in Pulantat are credited to Navy archeologist Douglas Osborneʼs 1947 manuscript of Chamorro archeology.  The area was heavily vegetated and only a few structures were reported.  The most extensive investigations prior to the current Manenggon hills effort were in the mid-1960s by Fred Reinman for the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam.  Reinman located the remains of 34 latte structures in two clusters northeast and southwest of the present RCA station, representing the highest frequency of latte structures known on Guam.  Unfortunately the physical condition of the site had deteriorated since the 1940s due to extensive clearing to create cattle pasture ground.

Reinman also reported eight latte features in their original position, four in the northern cluster and four in south Pulantat.  Most of the remainder had been bulldozed into piles at the edge of the remnant tree stands or onto the terrace slopes.  Reinman also conducted limited test excavations recovering a modest sample of ceramic, stone and shell materials, and other small quantities of historic debris.  Radiocarbon dates suggested late prehistoric use of the area. Because of a single impressive and intact 10-column latte set, the south Pulantat complex was nominated and accepted for the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Since Reinmanʼs visit, Pulantat has had periodic site inspections by the Guam Historic Preservation Office and the Micronesian Archaeological Research Services in association with Manenggon Hills development.  A broad functional variety and relatively high density of prehistoric remains have already been documented.

The Pulantat area consists mostly of gently sloping land forms and relatively impermeable volcanic bedrock.  The Ylig River, as well as the Manenggon River and the Pago River, are major drainage systems in Pulantat.  The freshwater wetlands provide an ideal environment for a diverse habitat, quite different from the northern plateau, that could support an agricultural economy.  Much of the area has been cleared in recent years for grazing, but for the most part, up to about the 1940s, the land was covered with forest and brush vegetation.  Most of the latte complexes in Pulantat are near wetland marshes.   Some archeologists speculate the area was heavily populated because the environment had enough resources and fresh water to support agriculture for an expanding population, as people moved from the coast to inhabit areas further inland.

The South Pulantat area contains at least four reconstructable latte sets that were originally reported by Reinman.  Other latte locations contain remnants of latte sets, or spatially isolated artifacts, or are associated with other prehistoric uses.

Some archeologists link the discovery of Pre-Latte period ceramics in the interior reaches of the Ylig drainage system to these Pulantat sites.  These ceramics, at the very least, point to land utilization during this time period, if not the establishment of permanent settlements.

The portrait that arises of the prehistoric occupation of Guamʼs interior is one where forested regions served as permanent residential locales complete with extensive latte complexes and agricultural sites, as well as some latte quarrying sites, depending upon the availability and accessibility of the rock outcrops. Additionally, the savannah served as a resource procurement zone for game and raw materials such as stone tools.

Subsequently, activities seem linked to seasonal or temporary occupation.  The general time frame, according to the ceramic evidence in the various study areas, was the Transitional Latte and Latte periods.  Use of interior settlements during the Pre-Latte period, however, was not evident.

In 1965-1966 excavations by Reinman resulted in the recovery of ceramics and a few stone artifacts mixed into a shallow midden but there were no artifacts of shell or bone.  Today little remains of the Pulantat site, which by 1975 had been recorded as two sites– the North and South Pulantat sites.  Cattle ranching, bulldozing and development have taken their tolls.

The density of prehistoric era sites and isolates in the general area indicate a substantial occupation and utilization of this inland area, particularly because of the abundant resources and easy access.  One of the interesting contributions that study of this area has provided is the study of stone tools and their production, and ancient prehistoric technological systems.  In Pulantat there is an area recognized as a possible stone and siltstone quarry, the first of its kind to be recorded on the island.  The site was littered with flaking debris and localized deposits of pottery fragments, including cores, worked and unworked nodules of raw materials, expedient tools and two formal flaked scrapers.  Siltstone flakes and nodules were also recovered, along with basalt flakes, slingstones, a scoria abrader, basalt hammer stone and basalt ground stone.

Only the initial stages of reduction (i.e., the striking of a stone core to remove material) are represented in the site inventory, but this end of a stone tool production system is among the most enlightening as no other can provide insights into the process of selection and procurement of materials used to make tools.  Some small scale reduction and preparation of formal implements, such as scrapers, was also present. During the prehistoric era, it seems likely that chert was collected in the form of isolated cobbles and boulders dispersed randomly throughout the site in crudely defined strings.  Once procured, the chert was tested and reduced through a rapid, heavy handed style of hard hammer pounding.  The usable flakes and cores and the few formally fashioned implements were then transported off-site, perhaps to another tool making workshop-like site, or to a place where people lived.  The unusable debris was left on-site in the same general vicinity where reduction occurred.

It is believed that the Pulantat site, at one time, held about 35 latte houses scattered across 50 hectares of land.  All but eight have been cleared away. The largest latte seem to have been made of a soft stone from nearby outcroppings.

Spanish Cross etched into a latte

Another large latte structure was standing when Osborne visited the site in 1945, but it has since been pushed over a bank and lies in a heap halfway down a slope.  It contains one of the most unusual latte stones on Guam, bearing a Spanish cross engraved on its side. People have speculated the cross was engraved either by soldiers who destroyed the village or by an early Chamorro Catholic convert.  Adzes, as well as large mortars, have been found in this area.  It is likely the area was only occupied for a short time, perhaps in the late 1600s.

By Dominica Tolentino

For further reading

Archaeological Studies of the Latte Period,” edited by Mike T. Carson, PhD, Micronesica, Volume 42 (1/2), University of Guam, March 2012.

Beardsley, Felicia, et. al. Archaeological Data Recovery and Monitoring of the Manenngon Hills Access Road Corridor, Guam. International Archaeological Research Institute, Honolulu, HI, 1993.

Burtchard, Greg.  Phase I Archaeological Inventory of the South Pulantat-RCA Parcel, Manenggon Hills, Yona, Guam.  International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc.  Honolulu, HI, 1991.

Hunter-Anderson, Rosalind and Darlene Moore.  “Chapter 2: Burials and Their Archaeological Contexts.”

Osborne, Douglas.  “Archeology on Guam:  A Progress Report.”  American Anthropologist 49 (1947):518-24.

Reed, Erik. General Report on Archeology and History of Guam.  US National Park Service, Washington, D.C, 1952

Reinman, Fred.  An Archeological Survey and Preliminary Test Excavations on the Island of Guam, Mariana Islands, 1965-1966.  Mangilao, Guam: Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam, 1977.

Thompson, Laura Maud.  Archeology of the Marianas Islands. Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 100.  Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1932.

Williams, Scott.  Archaeological Reconnaissance Survey of the Miyama Hills Access Road Corridor, Manenggon, Yona Municipality, Guam.  International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc. Honolulu, HI, 1991.