Mylene Lising on Becoming the Archaeologist She Is Today

The archaeologist and project director of The Traveling Museum PH talks about her favorite museums, excavation sites, and personal goals.

What are you up to this morning?
I’m joining a group of archaeologists to do a survey of a possible archaeological site in Novaliches, Quezon City.

What time do you head out to work?
In Manila, I start work at 9 a.m., usually on my laptop. In excavation, we head out to the site at 7 a.m. and head back to the camp by 4 p.m.

Favorite museums abroad?
I’m a fan of both art and natural history museums. I’m a member of the International Council of Museums, which allows me to enter most museums around the world for free. Some of my favorites are the Grande Galerie de l’Evolution of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris; the National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, and the Tate Modern in London; and the museum triangle of the Museo Nacional de Centro Arte Reina Sofia, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Museo El Prado in Madrid. And the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam because his work has been very influential on mine.

Mylene excavating in Rizal, Kalinga

What about in Manila?
The Ayala Museum and the National Museum are both interesting. And entrance to the National Museum is now free, which is excellent for the public. I’m looking forward to the opening of their new Museum of Natural History sometime this year. The Mind Museum is also a very good place for kids because its exhibits are interactive.

Other consuming passions?
I love to paint and draw but I’ve been too busy with archaeology to produce any art in the last few years. I have had two solo exhibits and a few group ones. Maybe I’ll be a Grandma Moses—painting in my 80s when I am no longer able to hike.

If you were not an archaeologist, you would be…
A starving artist. Or a dead journalist. I’m a licensed interior designer so I might also have continued my practice.

What compelled you to enter the field of archaeology?
I was really just interested in looking for prehistoric Philippine art while I was writing a paper in graduate school. Once I was immersed in it, I realized it is an amazing field of study— there have been so many discoveries, so many stories to tell about humans and how we’ve interacted with animals and the environment through time. Archaeology is so rich in information about humanity that it would be a pity not to share it with, well, humanity.

What memories from your childhood led you to where you are?
I grew up in Cagayan Valley and have always been very much an outdoors person. Callao Cave, where Dr. Mandy Mijares found the oldest human fossil in the country, was my playground. When I was six, my grandfather took me to see the site where they found the first megafauna fossils. The area is now Rizal, Kalinga, where my team and I have found many more extinct animal fossils and stone tools.

What is your personal goal as an archaeologist?
I would like to promote the story of humans based on science if only to help develop a better understanding of ourselves.

Greatest challenge at work?
Engaging the private sector to support an endeavor that would traditionally be part of a government program.

Most interesting sites you’ve visited?
The Rizal, Kalinga, site because there is decades’ worth of discoveries waiting to be unearthed. Our French-led team that works in partnership with the National Museum has found an almost complete fossil skeleton of a rhino and fragments of other extinct animals, such as the two kinds of dwarf elephants that we had around 500,000 to 700,000 years ago.

At the Georgian National Museum with archaeologists Michel Brunet and Marie Antoinette and Henry de Lumley.

Love of your life?
My husband has been my partner, conspirator, lover, best friend, sparring partner, mentor, life coach, spiritual adviser, anchor, and Mr. Right—because he’s always right—for the last 27 years

Greatest extravagance?
Going back to school to get two master’s degrees here and in Europe a little bit later in life.

Pet peeves?
Furnitures,” “equipments,” and the word “bonding”. Can we just say “hang out”?

Were you given any great advice today?
From my husband: “Your decision makes the difference between a plan and its implementation, and experimentation is part of learning.” Because I was killing myself for paying too much for concert tickets.

Have you dispensed any advice of your own?
To my teenage son: “You cannot reject a girl who is not asking you to be her boyfriend.” To my younger son: “You can go to art school for college, but you still have to finish your math homework now.”

What do you do to unwind?
I go for a walk in Ateneo. The campus is beautiful.

What are you most grateful for today?
My boys and my husband are home safely and everyone is in good health.

What do you hope to dream about?
I hope to sleep seven hours straight and if I do have a dream, I hope it’s one that makes sense—which dreams never do.

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Manica C. Tiglao
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