The Archaeology Division

Turning Points



After a strong of successful search operations, Prof. Beyer carried out collection activities in other Philippine area until the outbreak of World War II. Following his footsteps, local scientists from the National Museum, Ricardo G. Galang and Generoso Maceda, similarly pursued explorations in Quezon and Sorsogon provinces in 1938. Their studies yielded burial sites and 24 burial jars from Pilar, Sorsogon.

By November 1949, Filipino students Arsenio Manuel and Alfredo Evangelista joined Wilhelm Solheim, an American graduate student, in undertaking archaeological excavations under the tutelage of Prof. Beyer. They explored the Bondoc Peninsula up to Batungan Mountain in Masbate, where they found pottery belonging to the Neolithic Period.

This triumphant partnership between Filipino and foreign researchers signalled the beginning of more joint ventures in Philippine archaeology. The most outstanding feat of the 1950s was major fieldwork of National Mumseum researchers led by Evangelista and Robert Fox who later became one he most famous foreign archaeologist who worked in the Philippines. The group undertook an archaeological excavation in Bato Caves, Sorsogon in 1956 which yielded a burial jar and stone tool assemblage with no metal remains.

A C-14 date of 2280+/- 250 BP date was obtained. The following year, Cagraray Cave Sites were explored. A similar assemblage but with the addition of Chinese porcelain and stoneware jars, was unearthed, thus challenging Beyer's earlier theory that the technology of pottery manufacture did not reach the Philippines before iron.

The most extensive archaeological project during this period was the excavation of burial sites in Calatagan, Batangas, where over 500 burials were excavated, yielding 1,135 pieces of tradeware ceramics of Chinese and Siamese origin dating back to the late l4th and early l6th centuries.

Filipino-American explorations continued up to the 1960s. The National Museum conducted major explorations in the west coast of Palawan together with Robert Fox. They found the Tabon skull cap inside Tabon Cave which was the earliest evidence of human presence in the Philippines with a C-14 date of over 16,000 years ago! Fox also helped establish four broad cultural ages in the country: the Paleolithic Age, Neolithic Age, Metal Age and the Age of Contact and Trade with the East. Publications-wise, the most significant turning point was Beyer's "Outline Review of Philippine Archaeology by Islands and Provinces" published in the Philippine Journal of Science in 1947, followed by his "Philippine and East Asian Archaeology, and Its Relation to the Origin of the Pacific Islarids Population" published by the National Research Council of the Philippines as its Bulletin 29 in 1948. These major publications are still widely used today as references in the study of Philippine archaeology. The monograph "Tabon Caves" was published in 1970.

Archaeologists from the National Museum, such as Avelino Legaspi, Florante Henson, Wilfredo Ronquillo (now Chief of the Archaeology Division), and Eusebio Dizon, have participated in extensive research throughout the 70s in many parts of the country where recorded. This ushered in a new era of Philippine archaeological studies where lead researchers were Filipinos.Another milestone in the history of the Archaeology Division and Philippine prehistory happened with recovery of two ancient Philippine boats called "balanghai" from Butuan, Agusan del Norte which were found to have a C-14 date of 4th and l3th-l4th centuries AD.

Towards the later part of the 80s the Underwater Archaeology section was created. Maritime archaeology in the Philippines became more active. This led to the discovery of shipwrecks from Chinese junks to galleons like the Pandanan Shipwreck in Southern Palawan, and Galleon de San Diego in Fortune Island, Batangas.

Many more interesting discoveries were made by National Museum archaeologists. These include the recovery of stone tools like flakes and cobbles, a Neolithic shell mound with artifacts like pottery, polished stone tools, clay pendants, etc. in Cagayan Valley; habitation and burial sites dating 400 years before the arrival of Spaniards in Sta. Ana, Manila; and artifacts like obsidian flakes, iron implements, pottery and tradewares in Laguna Bay area, the site of the earliest cremation in the Philippines.

The desire for more archeological breakthroughs in Philippine lands and waters continues today, as the Archaeology Division continues to fulfill its mandate.

This page was last modified Monday, February 10, 2014
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