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 (Updated 21 August 2021) Archaeology of the Philippines. Southeast Asian Archaeology. Available at: https://www.southeastasianarchaeology.com/philippines-archaeology/
This page covers the archaeology of Philippines as a whole, and you can find more details about the other countries in their respective pages or explore the Resource Guide for thematic areas. There’s also the Virtual Archaeology page where you can visit Southeast Asian archaeological sites online, learn something from the Online Lecture Library, or find recent academic papers for more up-to-date research.
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.
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.
- *new* Seaways and Gatekeepers: Trade and State in the Eastern Archipelagos of Southeast Asia, c.1600–c.1906 by Heather Sutherland
- *new* SIMBAHAN: An Illustrated Guide to 50 of the Philippines’ Must-Visit Catholic Churches by Regalado Trota Jose
- *new* Remote Sensing the Margins of the Gold Trade: Ethnohistorical archaeology and GIS analysis of five gold trade networks in Luzon, Philippines, in the last millennium BP by Michael Armand P. Canilao
- *new* Archaeology of Manila Galleon Seaports and Early Maritime Globalization by Chunming Wu, Roberto Junco Sanchez and Miao Liu (Eds.)
- *new* Asin Tibouk: Traditional Salt Making in Alburquerque, Bohol, Philippines by Andrea Yankowski
- First Islanders: Prehistory and Human Migration in Island Southeast Asia by Peter Bellwood
- Antiquity, Archaeological Processes, and Highland Adaptation: The Ifugao Rice Terraces by Stephen B. Acabado
- Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms by Florina H. Capistrano-Baker
- 4000 Years of Migration and Cultural Exchange: The Archaeology of the Batanes Islands, Northern Philippines by Peter Bellwood and Eusebio Dizon (Eds.) [Free download here]
- Archaeology and Emerging Kabikolan by Andrea Malaya M. Ragragio
- Identity and Reciprocity in 15th Century Philippines by Grace Barretto-Tesoro
- Land of the morning: Treasures of the Philippines by David Baradas
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Philippine Archaeology in the News
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.
Looking for something specific? You can also use this search box:
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!
- Archaeological Studies Programme, University of the Philippines
- Heritage Conservation Advocates – The Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) campaigns for the preservation and promotion of historical and archaeological sites in Cagayan de Oro and vicinities
- International Council of Monuments and Sites, Philippines – ICOMOS Philippines maintains a blog on the industrial heritage of the Philippines.
- Katipunan Arkeologist ng Pilipinas, Inc. – Professional association for Philippine archaeologists. Facebook page.
- National Historical Commission of the Philippines – Government agency responsible for the conservation and preservation of Filipino historical legacies.
- National Museum of the Philippines – Government institution which manages and develops the national reference collections in cultural heritage and natural history and conducts research in archaeology.
- Philippine Archaeology @ UCLA – Philippine archaeology projects run from the archaeology program at UCLA
- The Philippine Registry of Cultural Property (PRECUP) is the repository of all information pertaining to cultural properties in the Philippines deemed significant to Philippine cultural heritage. It was established through Article V Section 4 of the National Heritage Act of 2009 Republic Act 10066.
- Philippine Underwater Archaeology Society – A non-profit society dedicated to help study and preserve Philippines’ underwater heritage, and to raise public awareness about underwater archaeology. Facebook page.
- Tuklas Pilipinas – Tuklas (discover) is a group of archaeologists and history and culture enthusiasts working for Philippine heritage literacy. Facebook page