In continuing celebration of the Maritime and Archipelagic Nation Awareness Month or #MANAMo this September 2022, this week’s #TrowelTuesday features the iron anchor from Donsol Astillero retrieved in Barangay Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon.
The anchor, measuring 3 m in length, was exposed after a flood in the area in the 1950s. It was documented by Dr. Mary Jane Louise Bolunia, now the Division Chief of the Archaeology Division of the #NationalMuseumPH, during an archaeological survey in 1994.
The Astillero Site was archaeologically excavated for 4 field seasons from 1995 to 1997 by the #NationalMuseumPH. Situated on a farm known as Astillero, locals claim that the area was named after an actual astillero or shipyard located in the area.
Most of the recovered artifacts were made of iron, such as nails, spikes, and dowels. There were also copper and lead objects, fuel materials (charcoal, coal, and coke), shells, bone fragments, and ceramics that included earthenware, stoneware, Chinese and European porcelain sherds, bricks, and tiles.
Based on the initial geoarchaeological assessment, it suggests that the location was originally a mangrove area and infilled with soil to make it useful for the purpose of the astillero. Aside from the recovered artifacts, the team also discovered remnants of a furnace and man-made pools called lepak, probably used as a source of water for cooling metals during smelting, iron slag deposit, and earthenware crucibles. This indicates that the site once had a fabrica, a metal workshop for shipbuilding materials, and a shipyard approximately used during the Spanish period.
Astilleros are evidence of the Spanish colonization lost over time. Archaeological activities in the Donsol Astillero led to the discovery of a shipyard participating in the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade. The location of Donsol Astillero in Sorsogon was favorable to the galleon trade not only because it was part of the trade route but because of its rich natural and human resources to build and repair ships. The province also boasts of other astilleros, like the Binanuahan and Panlatuan in Pilar and Bagatao in Magallanes.
More research has to be done on the Astillero Sites to fully understand its role in the country’s maritime history. The iron anchor from Astillero is currently on loan to the Museo Sorsogon, where you can also view other archaeological materials recovered from the province.
Text by Sherina Aggarao and Mary Jane Louise Bolunia, and poster by Timothy James Vitales | NMP Archaeology Division
© 2022 National Museum of the Philippines
Bolunia, M. J. L. (1996a). Brief Accomplishment Report on Astillero, Brgy. Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon and vicinities [Fieldwork Report]. National Museum of the Philippines.
Bolunia, M. J. L. (1996b). Preliminary report on the archaeological exploration and test excavations of the Astillero Site, Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon (December 8-15, 1995) [Fieldwork Report]. National Museum of the Philippines.
Bolunia, M. J. L. (1997). The Astillero: A metal smelting site in Barangay Dancalan, Donsol, Sorsogon [Fieldwork Report]. National Museum of the Philippines.
Bolunia, M. J. L. (1998). Astillero: An archaeological analysis of a 19th century metal smelting site [Master’s Thesis]. University of the Philippines.
Bolunia, M. J. L. (2014). Astilleros: The Spanish shipyards of Sorsogon. In Proceedings of the 2nd Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage.
Ronquillo, W., & Bolunia, M. J. L. (2012). Binanuahan and Panlatuan Astillero: Spanish period shipyard in Pilar, Sorsogon (A preliminary report) [Fieldwork Report]. National Museum of the Philippines.