A recent rediscovery of an ancient village has drawn American and international anthropology students to Guam's Ritidian area to search for more clues about what life might have been like in that place hundreds of years ago.

Remnants of at least 15 ancient homes are part of the ancient village, said Mike Carson, an associate professor of archaeology and anthropology at the University of Guam.

Carson said he and other members of a group came across the ancient village after visiting caves in the limestone forest at Ritidian last November.

"What makes it significant isn't the find itself, but it is in a place that could be opened to the public," Carson said.

The remnants of this ancient village, which may have hosted a few generations of earlier Guam settlers in the mid-1600s or earlier, are also in relatively good condition, making it easy to see their original shapes, Carson said. The ancient homes are called latte.

Hunting and food preparation tools made of bones or coral, fishing hooks and pieces of beads and pottery have been found at the site.

Buildup argument

The ancient village's rediscovery also has added wind to the argument of certain local officials who oppose the military's plan that could further restrict public access to that part of Ritidian.

The ancient village already sits within an area at Ritidian that the public can access only with a special permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the wildlife refuge.

Public access to the site is restricted for research, including studies on brown tree snake and wild pig eradication, and for wildlife habitat protection, said Laura Beauregard, manager for federally managed refuge locations in the Marianas.

"The idea of protecting habitat at the refuge is, one day, for the birds to be brought back," she said.

Certain native Guam birds, such as the Micronesian kingfisher, are believed to be extinct in the wild, but are being raised in zoos across the world so that one day they can be rereleased into their habitat.

The federal Wildlife Service's concern about losing forest habitat for the kingfishers' future return to Ritidian has left it unable to sign on to the military's plan to build a Marine base on Guam, near the refuge at Ritidian.

The military has revised its plan, by moving the preferred location for housing for the Marines to Andersen Air Force Base to reduce the area of jungle that will be cleared, Pacific Daily News files show.

The preferred site for the proposed training range is within the fence at Andersen, but part of the adjacent wildlife refuge is needed for a safety buffer zone for more than half of each year when the proposed live-fire training range complex will be in use.

Speaker Judith Won Pat, who visited the ancient village recently with Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, Wildlife Service representatives and Carson, said she prefers all of the military activities, including the safety zone, be held within existing military bases.

"This should be a totally historic site," Won Pat said of the ancient village and the Ritidian area. Certain local families also claim ownership to parts of the Ritidian land, she said.

Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo said last year that without a viable live-fire training range, the proposed military buildup on Guam might not occur.

Guam supporters of the plan to build an $8.6 billion Marine base on Guam hope the military expansion will create more jobs and open up more business opportunities for island residents.

Jim Kurth, chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, testified before a House Natural Resources Committee hearing last year that the wildlife refuge at Ritidian hosts "the island's best public beach, the oldest known and longest-lasting ancient Chamorro settlement site, and the only place on the island where visitors can experience Guam's abundant natural resources and fragile ecosystem unimpaired by human activity."

Kurth testified that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the military "are currently engaged in cordial and frequent discussions" on the Ritidian issue.

Beachfront living

The ancient site of at least 15 latte homes -- limestone and coral pillars -- is located close to the Ritidian shoreline.

There also were stones lined in front of the pillars that used to be patios, Carson said.

The team of visiting anthropology students, led by professor James Bayman of the University of Hawaii's Department of Anthropology, is conducting limited excavation and other studies at the site.

Bayman said there are indications in some of the latte homes that men gathered in a home separate from a home where women gathered.

In 2008, Bayman also led a joint team from UOG and University of Hawaii that studied two ancient latte buildings, or latte, at Ritidian, not far from the cluster of 15 latte homes Carson's group came across.

An ancient settlement at Ritidian is documented in earlier times, including in 1819, when French explorer Louis de Freycinet wrote about his Marianas sojourn, Bayman's group wrote from the 2008 study.

Freycinet had described Ritidian as one of two places in Guam with "the finest building timber," the study states, quoting an English translation of the French explorer's notes.

"Mariana Islanders were colonized by the Spanish in the 17th Century, almost 150 years after Ferdinand Magellan initiated Europe's first contact with Guam in 1521, and their native latte buildings atop capped-stone columns . have captivated the imagination of Western scholars," Bayman's group wrote.

Quoting previous historical documents, Bayman's group's 2008 study states that at Ritidian, "there were also flashes of Chamorro resistance to the Spanish, . when a priest was killed in 1681 or 1683."

The Spaniards abandoned Ritidian about 1682, according to Bayman's group's previous study, quoting previous historical documents.