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Jana Frey | 30.08.2018 | 336 Aufrufe | Interviews

Riczar Belcena Fuentes: Island Adaptation and Maritime Interaction in Changing Environments from the Terminal Pleistocene to the Early Holocene. A Comparative Study of Prehistoric Technology in Northeastern Indonesia and the Philippines

Lisa Maskell Fellowhips in Southeast Asia

In 2014, the Gerda Henkel Foundation initiated a scholarship programme supporting young humanities scholars from Africa and Southeast Asia in honour of the foundation's founder, Lisa Maskell. It is the largest international support programme for PhD students in the history of the Foundation. The Lisa Maskell Fellowships aim to strengthen universities in the partner countries, to counter the outflow of qualified young scholars and to ensure the doctoral students enjoy excellent academic training.

In the following months, L.I.S.A. will publish interviews with the Lisa Maskell Fellows from Subsaharan Africa and from Southeast Asia, in which they will talk about their research projects as well as their experiences during their academic career and the Lisa Maskell fellowship.

This week, we welcome Riczar Belcena Fuentes from the Philippines. After graduating from the University of the Philippines, he started his PhD in Archeology with the thesis Island Adaptation and Maritime Interaction in Changing Environments from the Terminal Pleistocene to the Early Holocene: A Comparative Study of Prehistoric Technology in Northeastern Indonesia and the Philippines, for which he spent twelve months at the Eberhard-Karls University of Tübingen .

Riczar Belcena Fuentes from the Philippines

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"Budget cuts in education affected this discipline more than any other courses"

L.I.S.A.: What is the status of the humanities in the Philippines, your home country?

Riczar Belcena Fuentes: The humanities are still very much alive in most of the public and liberal institutions, as in the case of the University of the Philippines which provides students with a more holistic education. However, government policies are geared toward neoliberal policies and this affected educational programs in both public and private universities. It means streamlining courses and investing more in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Recent budget cuts in education also affected this discipline more than any other courses.

"There is growing awareness on the value of studying the past in the Philippines"

L.I.S.A.: Have you ever encountered problems in the realization of your academic career?

Riczar Belcena Fuentes: Yes, mainly the limited availability of funding for the social sciences and humanities. Archaeology is one of the programs that needs to be developed and supported by the government. Finding an institution that fits our qualifications is another hindrance. We simply do not have enough jobs for university lecturers, professors, and researchers. In the Philippines, being in the academy does not always translate to permanent positions. But we are quite positive as there is growing awareness on the value of studying the past in the Philippines, which already reached the mainstream media. In the long term, we hope that this will translate into actual government research positions or new archaeology programs in several universities in the Philippines.

"Implications on human adaptations in changing sea levels and environments in the region"

L.I.S.A.: What is your PhD project about and what got you interested in the chosen topic to begin with?

Riczar Belcena Fuentes: My project focuses on identifying prehistoric technologies in Island Southeast Asia (ISEA) through the study of microscopic traces and residues on stone tools. I am working on artifacts recovered from prehistoric cave and rockshelter sites dated to somewhere between the late Pleistocene and the early to mid-Holocene. The results of the study have implications on human adaptations in changing sea levels and environments in the region. I decided to specialize in lithic use-wear analysis because of its potential in addressing questions on development of prehistoric technologies in Island Southeast Asia. Initially, the stone tool traditions in this region were identified as backwards or stagnant because as compared to the patterns observed in Europe and Africa. However, recent studies on artifacts from ISEA show that there was an intensive use of organic materials, such as plants and bones, in tool production. However, except for the implements made from bones, this ‘organic technology’ is not preserved in the archaeological record due to the nature of the tropical environment. I am focusing on the identification of plant working because it leaves distinct traces called polishes on the stone tool surface. With some colleagues, we are working towards understanding plant working strategies and preferences during the prehistoric times using quantitative techniques, such as measurement of surface roughness of stone tools. 

"They provide a venue for the exchange of ideas in a very relaxed but professional manner"

L.I.S.A.: What has your experience at the Eberhard-Karls University of Tübingen been like? Have there been any differences to other institutions you have previously attended?

Riczar Belcena Fuentes: It was a great learning experience to work and interact with the people from several sub-disciplines of archaeology at the University of Tübingen. Exchanging ideas with those from outside of my specialization (use-wear analysis) helped me in refining my research. Similar with my experiences in the Philippines, our professors in Tübingen encourage critical thinking and independence in pursuing our research. The interactions with our faculty members at the University of the Philippines are similar in Tübingen, a bit informal, treating everyone as colleagues. Therefore they provide a venue for the exchange of ideas in a very relaxed but professional manner. What I like more in Tübingen is the efficiency in doing administrative stuff, scheduling of access to facilities, and setting up of meetings with professors and colleagues. Also, they trained me how to operate some of the equipment, thus, I gained understanding of the limitations of these machines and on adjusting protocols to fit archaeological samples.

"At the Ph.D. level, pursuing a degree abroad is more viable in terms of funding"

L.I.S.A.: What are the opportunities in the Philippines to pursue different degree options (BA/MA/PhD)?

Riczar Belcena Fuentes: For the undergraduate degree there are many opportunities especially now that we have a law mandating free education for the tertiary level in public colleges and universities. However, continuing to graduate studies is the challenging part because of limited opportunities and scholarships. That is why at the Ph.D. level, pursuing a degree abroad is more viable in terms of funding and access to facilities that are not available in the Philippines. For those taking degrees under STEM, there is greater support from the government, with the push to promote the development of science and technology in the country.

"Contribute to the advancement of archaeology in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia"

L.I.S.A.: What are your plans concerning your future career once you have obtained your PhD?

Riczar Belcena Fuentes: I am planning to start a research group and set up a laboratory dedicated to the analysis of archaeological materials. I am planning to mentor students and guide them towards fulfilling their potential as researchers. Overall, I want to contribute something to the advancement of archaeology in the Philippines and in Southeast Asia.

Riczar Belcena Fuentes has answered the questions in written form.

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