The Search for the Perfect Thesis Topic

For my thesis proposal class yesterday, I was required to submit three possible thesis topics. The thing about the research I’m interested in is that I’m not sure of the viability of doing it here in the Philippines because I am not sure of the materials available to me. See, I like human bones. I am a frustrated medical student. I wanted to become a doctor but I’m too chicken sh!t to have someone die in my arms, literally. Plus, the years of medical school will drain the life out of me. Yes, I like learning but I like learning different things. Not the same thing for the next 25 years of my life.

Anyway, I am determined to do one thing for my thesis and that is to study the art of tattooing and how it reflects social organization in a particular tribe or culture. When I suggested this, my professor said that it’s more in the Art Studies department since it will require knowledge of style evolution. I do know that tattoos are evident in skeletal remains but putting an archaeological context to it seems difficult. The only possible materials I could examine are the Kabayan mummies but even that pose a lot of problems too, including ethical issues. I like to study the Kabayan mummies. All mummies recovered have tattoos on them! He then suggested to do an ethnoarchaeology on the Kalinga tattooing and how it would reflect on social organization of the past while my classmate suggested I search for similar designs on tattoo and pottery. It is an interesting topic and my professor vetoed it because I could study the Cagayan Metal Age shell midden pottery and look for tattoos similar to those in the Kalingas. Those are two possible thesis topics already.

Second: I wanted to do the bioarchaeology of the Catanauan jar burials, or at least focus on finding stress markers and trauma. Thing is, these are jar burials and I forgot that these are secondary burials so the context would be problematic at the very basic level. See with jar burials, there has been a selection process on which bones will be included in the burial already. In line with this, there will be statistical problems as not all of the assemblage will be properly represented. The quality of the bones will be questionable as well as not all will be in good condition which will then be difficult to analyze. Finally, the Catanauan Excavations are done in partnership with the Australian National University so there’s probably a student or two who’s done this already. The topic is a good one and should I find a better archaeological site, I could pursue this. Then came Phil Piper. The Nagsabaran site in Ilocus Sur is a good archaeological site and he is interested to include me in the project. A few ASP members are analyzing animal bones, stone tools, and residue from the site already and he doesn’t see a problem with me studying the skeletal remains they have excavated there. Apparently, they have a lot. All that has to be done is to speak with Marc Oxenham, an Australian bioarchaeologist who specializes in Southeast Asia and currently directing the project. I am excited to do this because I will be included from the digging to the analysis which will be very good for my thesis. The only problem is that excavations will commence on November again. I will have to wait another semester before I can do my thesis.

The final topic was to do general body modifications analysis in the Philippines, at least those evident in skeletal remains. I only submitted two topics really. This third one was just an impulsive decision and not really a serious one. So far, there are cranial deformations, teeth filing, gold teeth peggings. I could do a restudy (or reaffirmation) of the practices of body modifications in the Philippines based on current literature.

So why am I putting this out there? Because I’m calling dibs on all these topics until I’ve found a suitable one I’d be really interested in pursuing. I only have two weeks to zero in on one. Help!


4 thoughts on “The Search for the Perfect Thesis Topic

  1. You’d definitely have to go through a political obstacle if you choose the Catanauan assemblage. Marami kasi ang “may-ari” nuon. However, if you’ve the stomach for it (which you do), you should really aim for the stars and go for it. Secondary burial isn’t really a problem. It just makes it more fun (read: complicated and challenging). You can go for the Ille Site assemblage as well. As far as I know, nobody’s touched the cemetery assemblage. Sad coz my beads are smack in that layer, exclusive. It also pays to be “apprenticed” to an “expert” of sorts. There are human bones people about, walking like normal people – they don’t even know they’re experts! A study buddy, someone who shares the same archaeological interests, also helps. Good luck!

    1. Thanks Pau! Marami na nga raw nagwowork sa Catanauan bones eh but I have yet to talk to VJP about it. Sana hindi magkaprublema since we have different topics. I have a problem with the “expert” and study buddy since I have no idea who could I possible do my thesis with. Elle perhaps? Haha. And the expert? Medyo natatakot na ako sa aking adviser. Kelangan ng matinding push para makagraduate ako kagad. Haha.

  2. Lala! Nagsabaran is in Cagayan, near Lallo, at the end of Cagayan River.
    You wanna join us this 29th at Manila North Cemetery? Marc Oxenham and his students will be with us. 🙂

    Also I will be more than glad in joining you at your fieldworks. If you plan on pursuing the tattoo topic, we better do a fieldwork at Batad (where Aya had her tattoo, I think?). Basta I know there’s this old woman still performing the oldschool method of tattooing.

    (Parang kaklase mo lang ako sa 299 ano ha. Hehehe.)

    1. Potek, nakakahiya ako. I just did a quick search on the net where Nagsabaran is. I just know it’s up north. Haha. Salamat sa info. I’m not sure sa 29th kasi my friends and I planned a party pero since hindi pa sila nagsisipag-confirm, pag hindi yun natuloy, I’ll definitely join you. Baka pag nakilala ko si Marc Oxenham in person, padelay na lang talaga ako sa thesis. Lol. Super interested talaga ako sa tattooing eh. It’s also an excuse to finally get a tat. Ha! If I decide on that topic, siguro the Nagsabaran paper will just be another research for me. Gusto ko rin kasi talagang karirin yun eh. Sige, pag nagdecide ako, you’ll be one of the first to know. Thanks Kat ha! 🙂

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