Burial in earthenware jars and other containers is a common funerary tradition associated with the Metal Age of the Philippines, from around 2800 to 1000 years ago. Burial jars greatly vary in forms and sizes, and are mostly found in cave sites, near coasts, and in the open hilly areas.
Their varied sizes are often indicative of the type of burial practice performed in these vessels. Some burial jars are large enough to accommodate the whole body of a deceased individual in a flexed position. This direct interment of the dead in the vessel characterizes a primary burial tradition. The more common jar burial practice in the Metal Age, on the other hand, involves the elaborate process of reburying the skeletal remains of the deceased individual in relatively smaller vessels after its initial interment. This tradition is called secondary burial and is represented by the Manunggul burial jar and the Maitum anthropomorphic burial jars, both of which are declared National Cultural Treasures. Aside from the differing sizes, the forms and decorative styles varied greatly in each site, reflecting the diverse beliefs and cultural attitudes of Metal Age societies in the archipelago. Associated with these burial vessels are various artifacts interred inside as grave goods such as smaller pottery vessels, ornaments, metal tools, and shell artifacts.
The Burial Jar Collection contains most of the intact and restored pottery burial vessels recovered from several archaeological sites throughout the Philippines, from the Batanes Islands to the Maitum site in Sarangani Province. Most of the burial jars are currently displayed in the Palayok: Ceramic Heritage of the Philippines exhibition located at the second floor of the National Museum of Anthropology. Included in the collection as well are the other earthenware burial containers such as the rectangular earthenware burial vessel from Bacong in Negros Oriental, the limestone burial urns of the Kulaman Plateau of Sultan Kudarat, and the various burial jar covers made of pottery and stone.