Archaeology of the Philippines

From the prehistoric Tabon Cave to the baroque churches of today, Philippines’ archaeology tells a story for millennia. Philippines is an archipelagic state located north of Sulawesi and south of Taiwan. Notable Unesco World Heritage sites include the historical city of Vigan, the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras and the baroque churches of the Philippines. The archaeology of the Philippines goes back further; evidence for prehistoric human occupation can be found in the Tabon and Ille Caves in Palawan; while more recently a new species of dimunitive hominid has been identified from Callao Cave in the Cagayan Valley, dating 67,000 years.

To cite this page: Tan, Noel Hidalgo (2021, Updated 25 November 2022) Archaeology of the Philippines. Southeast Asian Archaeology. Available at: https://www.southeastasianarchaeology.com/philippines-archaeology/
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Overview
Overview
Map
Map
Recommended Books and Readings
Recommended Books
Most Popular Posts
Most Popular Posts
News Archive
News Archive
Links to other websites
Links to other websites
Online Lecture Library
A searchable collection on publicly-available lectures
Virtual Archaeology
Archaeological sites and museums you can visit online
Archaeological Projects in Southeast Asia
A list of past and present archaeological project websites
Journals and Scholarly Research
Scholarly research and a list of Southeast Asian archaeology journals
Tools and Software
Field work equipment and digital tool recommendations, with many available for free.
Job postings, scholarships and funding opportunities
Job postings, scholarships and funding opportunities

Overview

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Recent research into the prehistoric period of the Philippines has resulted in two startling finds; first, the presence of hominids from as early as 700,000 years ago, and also the existence of dimunitive hominid species (not unlike Homo floresiensis) called Homo luzonensis which lived around 67,000 years ago. The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in the Philippines comes from the Tabon Caves, dating to 47,000 years ago. In more recent prehistory, the Philippines was once of the first places colonised by populations emerging from Taiwan, most notably around 5,000 years ago when the Batanes islands off Northern Luzon were settled, initially by a seafaring culture who spoke an Austronesian language and brought with them rice agriculture and metal working. More recent genetic research suggests that there were multiple waves of migration in the deep past that can be detected. By the first millennium CE, communities, particularly coastal ones, were engaged in regional trade networks.

The 10th century Laguna Copperplate Inscription, which was written in Kawi, suggests that polities in the Philippines were influenced by Indic culture from neighbours in present-day Indonesia and Vietnam. Song Dynasty records around the same time also mention the polity of Ma-i which may have been located in Mindoro or Luzon. Up until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, a number of kingdoms and polities were known in the Philippine island, including Tondo (mentioned in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription), Butuan, and the Sulu Sultanate.

The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century saw the beginning of large scale colonization of the Philippines bringing changes to the population and landscape that can still be seen today. The Spanish converted many to Christianity and waged war on the Muslim sultanates in the south, including Brunei and Sulu. Spanish efforts to acquire gold from the mountains of Luzon also led to the construction of the rice terraces in Ifugao, as indigenous populations moved to the highlands to escape colonial rule. Between the 16th and 19th century, a trade route between Manila and Acupulco was established, linking the Philippines with Latin America. At the end of the 19th century, the Philippines became a colony under the United States and remained so until after World War II.

The study of Philippine archaeology only began in the 20th century. American anthropologist H. Otley Beyer who worked the University of the Philippines is credited for some of the first substantive archaeological work in the Philippines. Today, archaological practice in the country is overseen by the National Museum of the Philippines; the Archaeological Studies Program at the University of the Philippines is the main instutition in the country offering formal archaeology education, while a professional archaeology guild (Katipunan Arkeologist ng Pilipinas, Inc., or KAPI) also exists.

Notable Archaeological Sites in the Philippines

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Here is a list of some of the more significant archaeological sites in the Philippines. Not all of these sites are open to the public, and the locations marked on the map may not be exact. For more information about museums in the Philippines, check out the museum page here.

  • Angono Petroglyphs: Rock art site in Rizal province with over 80 rock carvings on volcanic tuff. A site museum is also present.
  • Ayub Cave: Cave site in Sarangani Province where anthropomorphic jar burials were discovered.
  • Butuan Boats: Construction work in 1975 resulted in the discovery of several significant archaeological objects, the most important of which are boats (balanghays) and coffin burials. The boats date between the 10-13th centuries CE.
  • Cagayan Valley sites: One of the most archaeologically significant regions of the Philippines, the Cagayan Valley is home to the Callo Cave, from which Homo luzonensis was first discovered, as well as the site of the oldest rhinoceros processing site, dated over 700,000 years old.
  • Church of La Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion: Known as Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur, this is one of the four churches in the Unesco-listed Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
    Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin: One of the four churches in the Unesco-listed Baroque Churches of the Philippines. San Agustin Church is located within Intramuros in Manila.
  • Church of San Agustin: One of the four churches in the Unesco-listed Baroque Churches of the Philippines, more commonly known as Paoay Church.
  • Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva: Known as the Miagao Church, this historic church is one of the four churches in the Unesco-listed Baroque Churches of the Philippines.
  • Intramuros: The Spanish-period walled city of Manila, containing a number of heritage buildings such as Fort Santiago and the San Agustin Church.
  • Kabayan Mummy Caves: Before the arrival of Christianity, the Ibaloi people practiced mummification of the dead. These remains were interred in over 200 man-made caves in the Kabayan Municupality of Benguet Province.
  • Lena Shoal Shipwreck: Shipwreck dating to the end of the 15th century containing a ceramic cargo from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Burma, along other region wares
  • San Diego Shipwreck: Spanish navy warship that sank in Nusugbu Bay in 1600. The artefacts from the wreck are now stored in the National Museum of Anthropology.
  • Shell Middens on the banks of the Cagayan River: These shell midden sites in Cagayan province contain numerous evidences of human occupation during the Neolithic, and indicate how humans exploited natural resources for subsitence
  • The Tabon Cave Complex: The Tabon Cave contains one of the oldest Homo sapiens remains in Southeast Asia, dating at 47,000 years old. The cave sites in the western coast of Palawan have been occupied continuously since 50,000 years ago.
  • Vigan: Historic World Heritage City in Ilocos Sur province known for its Spanish architecture dating to the 16th century.

Recommended Books

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There are a number of books relevant to the archaeology and history of Philippines, and the list below is my personal recommendation based on what I have in my library or have read, and are easily available. There are some local-language publications that are not available in the internet, and newer books are higher up on the list. Some of these links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission if you click on them and make a purchase. For other sources of reliable academic information, you should also check out the books page for latest releases and the occassional free book, as well as the journals page for the latest scientific research.

Last update on 2023-01-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Most Popular Philippine Archaeology Posts

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These links are dynamically generated and are based on the most viewed posts in the last 30 days.

Philippine Archaeology in the News

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The news reports indexed below usually link to external sites that were active at the time of posting; sometimes websites may be temporarily down or may have reorganised their underlying architecture or have even closed down – in these cases the links may not be available. Most of the news articles archived are in English; this is largely because I do not have a working competency in Filipino, although when I am made aware of stories in this and other languages I try to index them.

Philippine Archaeology Websites

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These are links to external sites and unless stated, I have no connection with the organisations or entities in these links or control over their content. They are sorted alphabetically, but you should also explore the Resources page which have links sorted by themes. If you have a link to suggest, please get in touch!