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A habitation but unlikely a habitation
By Elson T. Elizaga

A short version of this article was published in Gold Star Daily in 2007. Revised online on February 13, 2009. Updated August 11, 2023. Some linked websites -- like the archaeologywordsmith.com and webref.com -- are already offline.

What is the definition of settlement and habitation? Since the 70s, the Huluga archaeological site in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines has always been described as a prehistoric settlement by several scholars, among them Dr. Erlinda M. Burton, an archaeologist at Xavier University.4

In 2004, however, the Historical and Cultural Commission (HISCCOM) of City Hall issued a statement: "... Huluga is a habitational place and not a settlement site of ancient Kagay-anons."

HISCCOM was using the 2004 report of the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program (UP-ASP).1 The title of the conclusion of this report says it all: "Huluga was a Habitation, But Unlikely a Settlement." A portion of the body explains the concept further: “ … the area may have been a habitational site, with people using the space for domestic activities, but were not permanently settled ... ". The Archaeological Studies Program also described Huluga as a "camp-like" area, suggesting that in their glossary, "habitation site" and "camp-like" are similar or the same.

Dr. Erlinda M. Burton
Dr. Erlinda M. Burton in Huluga

Burton, however, is amused by this distinction because, she says, habitation and settlement are synonymous.

Is Burton correct? Between 1965 to 1968, Burton learned of the definitions because she studied master of arts in anthropology (specializing in archaeology) at Brigham Young University, Utah. During this period, she had the chance to work with Louis S. B. Leakey in the Calico Archaeological Site in California. Her thesis was A Study of the Prehistoric Settlement Patterns of the Provo Area in Central Utah. But 40 years have passed since then. Have the definitions changed?

I checked an online dictionary of scientific terms (webref.org) and found this entry: "habitation: a location where a human group has lived and conducted normal daily activities for a significant period."

That looked to me synonymous to settlement. But not satisfied, I consulted the huge database of archaeologywordsmith.com,5 which is "run by Dr. Barbara Ann Kipfer, a lexicographer with almost 30 years' experience in writing and editing dictionaries, thesauri, and other word books ... Dr. Kipfer is the author of more than 37 books and holds an MPhil and PhD in linguistics. She is also a Registered Professional Archaeologist and has a PhD in archaeology."

Archaeologywordsmith.com defines "habitation site" as "A general term for any area that has evidence of a domestic activity, such as food preparation. Any site where people lived in the past."

The dictionary does not have an entry for "settlement", so I emailed questions2 to Dr. Kipfer: "What is the difference among the terms 1) settlement site, 2) habitation site, and 3) campsite?"

Dr. Kipfer:  "A settlement or settlement site is a site or location that is or was habitation. A habitation site is a general term for any area that has evidence of a domestic activity, such as food preparation; it is also any site where people lived in the past -- making it the same as a settlement site. A campsite is simply a placed used for camping."

"A habitation site is ... the same as a settlement site."

Elizaga: "I got curious about these terms because a group of archaeologists in the University of the Philippines recently wrote that an archaeological site in my place is 'a habitation' or  'camp-like' but it is not a 'settlement'."

Dr. Kipfer: "Their terminology would certainly be different mainly because of language differences."

Elizaga: "Another archaeologist [Burton] says 'habitation' and 'settlement' are synonymous."

Dr. Kipfer: "That would be correct."

Elizaga: "Why is there no definition for "settlement site" in reference-wordsmith.com (now archaeologywordsmith.com)?"

Dr. Kipfer: "I am adding it, but really it is the type of thing not defined in a dictionary as its definition is understood by the definitions of its parts, i.e. "it is a site where there was or is a settlement."

The next day, I checked archaeologywordsmith.com again, and was pleased to find a new entry as she had promised, defined with such minimal clarity as to prevent any possibility of misunderstanding:

DEFINITION: Site or location that is or was habitation.

So, there.

Now, using this reference -- authored by an expert who is not only a linguist and lexicographer but also a Registered Professional Archaeologist -- I reckon that it is ultimately safe to revise the conclusion of the Archaeological Studies Program to "Huluga was a Habitation, But Unlikely a Habitation." 

Added April 13, 2023
Kipfer's Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology, photo from Amazon.comBarbara Ann Kipfer's online dictionary is no longer active. But she has two related books available in amazon.com: Encyclopedic Dictionary of Archaeology (Second Edition, 2021 Edition) and the Archaeologist's Fieldwork Companion.

In January 2009, I received a partial copy of an article by archaeologist Vito Hernandez of the Archaeological Studies Program. In this document, the idea that Huluga is a habitation but not a settlement is still propagated. I guess the profound mystery of this concept will continue to baffle the international settlement of archaeologists. But not to worry. In the archaeological camp of the University of the Philippines, this koan-like riddle should continue to make perfect sense. End


Scattered occupation is also important

"As an archaeologist, I fully agree with your evaluation of this statement:

'I guess the profound mystery of this concept will continue to baffle the international settlement of archaeologists. But not to worry. In the archaeological camp of the University of the Philippines, this koan-like riddle should make perfect sense.'

"I know next to nothing about archaeology in the Philippines but I suspect that, like in many other countries, a section of the archaeological community continue to evaluate the relevance of ancient remains in function of so-called “major civilisations” (i.e. large walls, many artefacts = important; scattered occupation = unimportant)…. HISCCOM seem to be suggesting that all hunter-gatherer and nomadic evidence might as well be bulldozed. So goodbye to the Paleolithic, the Eurasian Steppes and let’s open a bottle of champagne for the advanced civilisations which colonised the backward isles now known as the Philippines.

"In certain cases, archaeologists have been known to lend support to the destruction of archaeological sites for non-ethical reasons – I guess/hope this is not the case. ;-)

"If you think that a more official statement from the archaeological community would be useful, I am sure that many scholars would give you support."

-- Dr. Sebastian Stride. "Definition of Habitation Site." Email to Indo-Eurasian_research@yahoogroups.com, February 14, 2009. | From the Silk Road Foundation Newsletter:3 "Stride spent four years living in Uzbekistan and has been working in Central Asia since 1995. He is a member of the MAFOuz de Bactriane and the Observatori del Tíbet i de l’Àsia Central and currently teaches Central Asian History and Archaeology at Barcelona University."

Free Vote Caster from Bravenet.com Cast your vote: Do you want Manila archaeologists to ignore local scholars when doing work in the provinces?

1 The Archaeological Studies Program was paid P450,000 (US$10,000 at an exchange rate of 1US$ to P45) by the administration of former mayor Vicente Yap Emano to do "research" in Huluga and other archaeological sites in Cagayan de Oro. Emano is responsible for the widely-criticized destruction of a huge portion of Huluga.

2 Sent on August 24 and 28, 2007.

3 Offline on September 12, 2011.

4 Dr. Erlinda Burton, our dear friend and teacher, and a caring mother to many, died in the morning of September 11, 2018.

5 Offline on April 10, 2023.

Sept. 15, 2018

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