The 9th to 10th century archaeological evidence of maritime relations between the Philippines and the islands of Southeast Asia

In celebration of the Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month or #MANAMo this month, today’s #TrowelTuesday features the 9th to 10th century archaeological evidence of maritime relations between the Philippines and the Islands of Southeast Asia.

The 2nd millennium Common Era (CE) was characterized by intensified maritime exchange, development of political alliances, and cultural diffusion in Island Southeast Asia, as distinctly shown in archaeological discoveries in the region, including the Philippines. The maritime movement of people left footprints through material evidence, suggesting trade and contact with neighboring countries. 

The Srivijayan Hindu-Buddhist traders from Sumatra may have actively traded with the Philippines in the 8th–11th century CE. 

Changsha wares are grayish green-tinged underglaze stoneware vessels/dishes produced at the Changsha kilns of Hunan Province in southern China during the Tang Dynasty (618–906 CE). These were among the trade items provided for the overseas market around this period. Underwater archaeological excavations of the 9th-century Arab dhow wreck in Belitung Island near Sumatra, known as the Belitung shipwreck, revealed cargoes of Changsha bowls and other ceramic forms. 

Changsha ware is a type of ceramic rarely found in Philippine sites. These were reportedly excavated in Laurel, Batangas, and much recently in Mulanay, Quezon. The Mt. Kamhantik Site in Mulanay yielded stoneware glazed bowls associated with sarcophagus burials that were used as a grave offering for the dead. The site is a good source of information on the maritime exchange, movement, and relations during the 9th century CE, as reports revealed that Changsha bowls were extensively used as religious and ceremonial icons among the Hindus and Buddhists, particularly in the Indo-Malaysian region.

The lashed-lug plank-built boats, found in Butuan, Agusan del Norte, are additional proof of the maritime trade network in the 9th century. Butuan boats are the oldest watercraft in the Philippines, constructed between the late 8th and early 10th centuries. These may have shared standard technological techniques with other Southeast Asian regions in terms of constructing lashed-lug vessels. 

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI) is another piece of evidence of the Hindu-Buddhist material found in the country. The LCI is a thin copper strip with etchings similar to the Early Kawi script’s form. Anthropologist Antoon Postma’s translation of the LCI’s text shows the Saka date of 822, or 900 CE, the start of King Belitung of Central Java’s reign. The LCI suggests a contract that existed between the Philippines and its neighbors in the Southeast Asian region, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia.

The Changsha ceramics in Mt. Kamhantik Site, the Butuan boats, and the Laguna copperplate inscription are material evidence that signifies the maritime contact and healthy relationships between regions in Southeast Asia.




Article by Nida Cuevas. Images by Timothy James Vitales | NMP Archaeology Division

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