Interment of the dead in wooden coffins is a tradition shared by Southeast Asian cultures since prehistoric times. In the Philippines, this precolonial burial practice was observed mostly in the archaeological sites of the Central Philippines, dating around the 12th to 15th centuries or the Protohistoric period.
Generally, the early coffin tradition of the Philippines involves hollowing out pieces of wooden logs to form stylized burial receptacles with lids or covers. Their general shapes are either semicircular or trapezoidal in cross-section, and the lids are often carved into gable roof-like form. The coffins may appear plain or ornate, with carved animal motifs on the covers such as snakes, lizards, or crocodiles. The species of wood used for these funerary containers vary per site, depending on the locally available sources of hardwood.
These wooden coffins were used either as primary or secondary burial vessels and are mostly associated with foreign trade ceramics and ornaments as grave goods. Interestingly, the majority of the skulls associated with these coffins display evidence of cranial modification. This involves deliberate flattening of the frontal bone, which starts from infancy or the early stage of the individual’s life when the cranial bones have not yet fully fused. This precolonial tradition indicates the socio-economic status of the individual.
The Wooden Coffin Collection comprises the well-preserved wooden coffins recovered from Banton Island in Romblon, Masbate, Bohol, and other archaeological sites from the Protohistoric period. Included here as well are other wooden artifacts found associated with the burial coffins.