The earthenware artifacts of the National Archaeological Collection are composed of low-fired ceramic vessels that span from about 2250 BCE to 18th century CE. The collection comprises whole and fragmented ceramic vessels acquired through archaeological excavations, donations, purchases, and confiscation that commenced across the country in the 1950s. As a whole, the collection includes significant assemblages that exhibit diversity in form and decoration across the Philippine Islands through time. Typical vessel forms include globular pots, footed dishes, and bowls, with variations depending on space (sites and regions) and time (chronological period). Atypical forms also occur in some cases, especially in burial sites. Most of the objects in the collection were recovered from burial and habitation sites. Archaeologists found that earthenware vessels in burial sites were often used as ritual vessels or containers of grave offerings for the dead, whereas vessels from habitation sites were utilitarian in function and are commonly used in food preparation, cooking, and food storage.
Some noteworthy utilitarian and mortuary vessels from the Earthenware Collection are highlighted below. Included among the utilitarian pieces is a red-slipped Earthenware pot from Cagaya | 2050 dated from 4000 to 3000 years BP, during the Neolithic Age, and a cooking stove from Santa Ana, Manila, dated from the 12th to the 14th century CE. Meanwhile, some examples of mortuary vessels associated with burials in Metal Age cemeteries include a red-slipped goblet from Arku Cave in Cagayan, a decorated carinated bowl from Kalanay in Masbate, and an effigy vessel from the Tabon Caves in Palawan. This practice of burying earthenware vessels with the dead continued until the Protohistoric Period (1000–1521 CE), as seen in vessels from burials in Calatagan, Batangas that are dated to around 14th to 16th century AD. These include variants of a lugged and spouted vessel from Calatagan, Batangas, a squash-type (“kinalabasa”) pot also from Calatagan, and a footed dish with triangular cut-outs from Batangas. These and other vessels from the Earthenware Collection help archaeologists understand ancient societies in the Philippines by providing information on the movement of population, trade and maritime interactions, socio-political structures, cultural identities, and spirituality.