Thursday, October 14, 2010

Prehistory of the Philippines

Philippine prehistory covers the events prior to the written history of what would become the Philippine archipelago. The current demarcation line between this period and the early history of the Philippines is 900 AD, which is the date of the first surviving written record to come from the Philippines, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. This period saw the immense change that took hold of the archipelago from Stone Age cultures in 30000 BC to the emergence of developed thalassocratic civilizations in the 4th century AD, continuing on with the gradual widening of trade until 900 AD and the first surviving written records from the archipelago.

Stone-Age (c.50,000 - c.500 BC)

The first evidence of the systematic use of Stone-Age technologies in the Philippines is estimated to have dated back to about 50,000 BC, and this phase in the development of proto-Philippine societies is considered to end with the rise of metal tools in about 500 BC, although stone tools continued to be used past that date. Filipino Anthropologist F. Landa Jocano refers to the earliest noticeable stage in the development of proto-Philippine societies as the Formative Phase. He also identified stone tool and ceramics making as the two core industries that defined the economic activity of the time, and which shaped the means by which early Filipinos adapted to their environment during this period.

Tabon Man (c. 24000 or 22,000 BC)

The earliest human remains known in the Philippines are the fossilized fragments of a skull and jawbone of three individuals, discovered on May 28, 1962 by Dr. Robert B. Fox, an American anthropologist of the National Museum. These fragments are collectively called "Tabon Man" after the place where they were found on the west coast of Palawan. Tabon Cave appears to be a kind of Stone Age factory, with both finished stone flake tools and waste core flakes having been found at four separate levels in the main chamber. Charcoal left from three assemblages of cooking fires there has been Carbon-14 dated to roughly 7,000, 20,000, and 22,000 BCE. (In Mindanao, the existence and importance of these prehistoric tools was noted by famed José Rizal himself, because of his acquaintance with Spanish and German scientific archaeologists in the 1880s, while in Europe.)

Tabon Cave is named after the "Tabon Bird" (Tabon Scrubfowl, Megapodius Cumingii), which deposited thick hard layers of guano during periods when the cave was uninhabited so that succeeding groups of tool-makers settled on a cement-like floor of bird dung. That the inhabitants were actually engaged in tool manufacture is indicated that about half of the 3,000 recovered specimens examined are discarded cores of a material which had to be transported from some distance. The Tabon man fossils are considered to have come from a third group of inhabitants, who worked the cave between 22,000 and 20,000 BCE. An earlier cave level lies so far below the level containing cooking fire assemblages that it must represent Upper Pleistocene dates like 45 or 50 thousand years ago.

Physical anthropologists who have examined the Tabon Man skullcap are agreed that it belonged to modern man, homo sapiens, as distinguished from the mid-Pleistocene homo erectus species. This indicates that Tabon Man was Pre-Mongoloid (Mongoloid being the term anthropologists apply to the racial stock which entered Southeast Asia during the Holocene and absorbed earlier peoples to produce the modern Malay, Indonesian, Filipino, and "Pacific" peoples). Two experts have given the opinion that the mandible is "Australian" in physical type, and that the skullcap measurements are most nearly like the Ainus or Tasmanians. Nothing can be concluded about Tabon man's physical appearance from the recovered skull fragments except that he was not a Negrito.

The custom of Jar Burial, which ranges from Sri Lanka, to the Plain of Jars, in Laos, to Japan, also was practiced in the Tabon caves. A spectacular example of a secondary burial jar is owned by the National Museum, a National Treasure, with a jar lid topped with two figures, one the deceased, arms crossed, hands touching the shoulders, the other a steersman, both seated in a proa, with only the mast missing from the piece. Secondary burial was practiced across all the islands of the Philippines during this period, with the bones reburied, some in the burial jars. Seventy-eight earthenware vessels were recovered from the Manunggul cave, Palawan, specifically for burial.

Migration Theories

There have been several models of early human migration to the Philippines. Since H. Otley Beyer first proposed his wave migration theory, numerous scholars have approached the question of how, when and why humans first came to the Philippines. The question of whether the first humans arrived from the south (Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei as suggested by Beyer) or from the north (via Taiwan as suggested by the Austronesian theory) has been a subject of heated debate for decades. As new discoveries come to light, past hypotheses are reevaluated and new theories constructed.

Beyer's wave migration theory

The first, and most widely known theory of the prehistoric peopling of the Philippines is that of H. Otley Beyer, founder of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines. According to Dr. Beyer, the ancestors of the Filipinos came to the islands first via land bridges which would occur during times when the sea level was low, and then later in seagoing vessels such as the balangay. Thus he differentiated these ancestors as arriving in different "waves of migration", as follows:

1. "Dawn Man", a cave-man type who was similar to Java man, Peking Man, and other Asian homo sapiens of 250,000 years ago.
2. The aboriginal pygmy group, the Negritos, who arrived between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago.
3. The sea-faring tool-using Indonesian group who arrived about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and were the first immigrants to reach the Philippines by sea.
4. The seafaring, more civilized Malays who brought the Iron age culture and were the real colonizers and dominant cultural group in the pre-Hispanic Philippines.

Beyer's theory, while still popular among lay Filipinos, has been generally been disputed by anthropologists and historians. Reasons for doubting it are founded on Beyer's use of 19th century scientific methods of progressive evolution and migratory diffusion as the basis for his hypothesis. These methods have since been proven to be too simple and unreliable to explain the prehistoric peopling of the Philippines.

Objections to the Land Bridges Theory

In February 1976, Fritjof Voss, a German scientist who studied the geology of the Philippines, questioned the validity of the theory of land bridges. He maintained that the Philippines was never part of mainland Asia. He claimed that it arose from the bottom of the sea and, as the thin Pacific crust moved below it, continued to rise. It continues to rise today. The country lies along great Earth faults that extend to deep submarine trenches. The resulting violent earthquakes caused what is now the land masses forming the Philippines to rise to the surface of the sea. Dr. Voss also pointed out that when scientific studies were done on the Earth's crust from 1964 to 1967, it was discovered that the 35-kilometer- thick crust underneath China does not reach the Philippines. Thus, the latter could not have been a land bridge to the Asian mainland. The matter of who the first settlers were has not been really resolved. This is being disputed by anthropologists, as well as Professor H. Otley Beyer, who claims that the first inhabitants of the Philippines came from the Malay Peninsula. The Malays now constitute the largest portion of the populace and what Filipinos now have is an Austronesian culture.

Philippine historian William Henry Scott has pointed out that Palawan and the Calamianes Islands are separated from Borneo by water nowhere deeper than 100 meters, that south of a line drawn between Saigon and Brunei does the depth of the South China Sea nowhere exceeds 100 meters, and that the Strait of Malacca reaches 50 meters only at one point. Scott also asserts that the Sulu Archipelago is not the peak of a submerged mountain range connecting Mindanao and Borneo, but the exposed edge of three small ridges produced by tectonic tilting of the sea bottom in recent geologic times. According to Scott, it is clear that Palawan and the Calamianes do not stand on a submerged land bridge, but were once a hornlike protuberance on the shoulder of a continent whose southern shoreline used to be the present islands of Java and Borneo. Mindoro and the Calamianes are separated by a channel more than 500 meters deep.

Bellwood's Austronesian Diffusion Theory

The popular contemporary alternative to Beyer's model is Peter Bellwood’s Out-of-Taiwan (OOT) hypothesis, which is based largely on linguistics, hewing very close to Robert Blust’s model of the history of the Austronesian language family, and supplementing it with archeological data.

This model suggests that Between 4500 BC and 4000 BC, developments in agricultural technology in the Yunnan Plateau in China create pressures which drive certain peoples to migrate to Taiwan. These people either already have or newly develop a unique language of their own, now referred to as Proto-Austronesian.

By around 3000 BC, these groups have started differentiating into three or four distinct subcultures, and by 2500 to 1500 BC, one of these groups starts migrating southwards towards the Philippines and Indonesia, reaching as far as Borneo and the Mulluccas by 1500 BC, forming new cultural groupings and developing unique languages as they go.

By 1500 BC, some of these groups start migrating east, reaching as far as Madagascar around the first millennium AD. Others migrate west, settling as far as Easter Island by the mid-thirteenth century AD, giving the Austronesian language group the distinction of being one of the widest distributed language groups in the world, in terms of the geographical span of the homelands of its languages.

According to this theory, the peoples of the Philippines are the descendants of those cultures who remained on the Philippine islands when others moved first southwards, then eastward and westward.

Solheim's Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network (NMTCN) or Island Origin Theory

Wilhelm Solheim's concept of the Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network (NMTCN), while not strictly a theory regarding the biological ancestors of modern Southeast Asians, does suggest that the patterns of cultural diffusion throughout the Asia-Pacific region are not what would be expected if such cultures were to be explained by simple migration. Where Bellwood based his analysis primarily on linguistic analysis, Solheim's approach was based on artifact findings. On the basis of a careful analysis of artifacts, he suggests the existence of a trade and communication network that first spread in the Asia-Pacific region during its Neolithic age (c.8,000 to 500 BC). According to Solheim's NMTCN theory, this trade network, consisting of both Austronesian and non-Austronesian seafaring peoples, was responsible for the spread of cultural patterns throughout the Asia-Pacific region, not the simple migration proposed by the Out-of-Taiwan hypothesis. Solheim 2006

Solheim came up with four geographical divisions delineating the spread of the NMTCN over time, calling these geographical divisions "lobes." Specifically, these were the central, northern, eastern and western lobes.

The central lobe was further divided into two smaller lobes reflecting phases of cultural spread: the Early Central Lobe and the Late Central Lobe. Instead of Austronesian peoples originating from Taiwan, Solheim placed the origins of the early NMTCN peoples in the "Early Central Lobe," which was in eastern coastal Vietnam, at around 9,000 BC.

He then suggests the spread of peoples around 5,000 BC towards the "Late central lobe", including the Philippines,via island Southeast Asia, rather than from the north as the Taiwan theory suggests. Thus, from the Point of view of the Philippine peoples, the NMTCN is also referred to as the Island Origin Theory.

This "late central lobe" included southern China and Taiwan, which became "the area where Austronesian became the original language family and Malayo-Polynesian developed." In about 4,000 to 3,000 BC, these peoples continued spreading east through Northern Luzon to Micronesia to form the Early Eastern Lobe, carrying the Malayo-Polynesian languages with them. These languages would become part of the culture spread by the NMTCN in its expansions Malaysia and western towards Malaysia before 2000 BC, continuing along coastal India and Sri Lanka up to the western coast of Africa and Madagascar; and over time, further eastward towards its easternmost borders at Easter Island. Thus, as in the case of Bellwood's theory, the Austronesian languages spread eastward and westward from the area around the Philippines. Aside from the matter of the origination of peoples, the difference between the two theories is that Bellwood's theory suggests a linear expansion, while Solheim's suggests something more akin to concentric circles, all overlapping in the geographical area of the late central lobe which includes the Philippines.

Jocano's Local Origins Theory

Another alternative model is that asserted by anthropologist F. Landa Jocano of the University of the Philippines, who in 2001 contended that what fossil evidence of ancient men show is that they not only migrated to the Philippines, but also to New Guinea, Borneo, and Australia. In reference to Beyer's wave model, he points out that there is no definitive way to determine what the race to which the fossils belonged, and that all that is sure is that the discovery of Tabon Man proves that the Philippines was inhabited as early as 21,000 or 22,000 years ago. If this is true, the first inhabitants of the Philippines would not have come from the Malay Peninsula. Instead, Jocano postulates that the present Filipinos are products of the long process of evolution and movement of people. He also adds that this is also true of Indonesians and Malaysians, with none among the three peoples being the dominant carrier of culture. In fact, he suggests that the ancient men who populated Southeast Asia cannot be categorized under any of these three groups. He thus further suggests that it is not correct to attribute the Filipino culture as being Malayan in orientation.

Genetic studies

A Stanford University study conducted during 2001 revealed that Haplogroup O3-M122 (labeled as "Haplogroup L" in this study) is the most common Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup found among Filipinos. This particular haplogroup is also predominant among Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese. Another haplogroup, Haplogroup O1a-M119 (labeled as "Haplogroup H" in this study), is also found among Filipinos. The rates of Haplogroup O1a are highest among the Taiwanese aborigines, and Chamic-speaking people. Overall, the genetic frequencies found among Filipinos point to the Ami tribe of Taiwan as their nearest genetic ancestors. These findings are consistent with the theory that ancestors of the Filipino people have originated on continental East or Southeast Asia before migrating to the Philippines via Taiwan. A 2002 China Medical University study indicated that Filipinos shared genetic chromosome that is found among Asian people, such as Taiwanese aborigines, Indonesians, Thais, and Chinese. A variety of research study by the University of the Philippines, genetic chromosome were found in Filipinos which are shared by people from different parts of East Asia, and Southeast Asia. The predominant genotype detected was SC, the Southeast Asian genotype.

These indigenous elements in the Filipino's genetic makeup serve as clues to the patterns of migration throughout Philippine prehistory. After the 1500s, of course, the colonial period saw the influx of genetic influence from Europeans. A recent study conducted by Stanford University Asia-Pacific Research Center, stated that 3.6% of the Philippine population has varying degrees of European ancestry from Spanish, and American colonization.

Early Metal Age (c.500 BC - c.1 AD)

The earliest metal tools in the Philippines were said to have first been used somewhere around 500 BC, and this new technology coincided with considerable changes in the lifestyle of early Filipinos. The new tools brought about a more stable way of life, and created more opportunities for communities to grow, both in terms of size and cultural development.

Where communities once consisted of small bands of kinsmen living in campsites, larger villages came about- usually based near water, which made traveling and trading easier. The resulting ease of contact between communities meant that they began to share similar cultural traits, something which had not previously been possible when the communities consisted only of small kinship groups.

Jocano refers to the period between 500 BC and 1 AD as the incipient phase, which for the first time in the artifact record, sees the presence of artifacts that are similar in design from site to site throughout the archipelago. Along with the use of metal tools, this era also saw significant improvement in pottery technology.

First Appearance of Metals

The earliest use of copper in the Philippines was for ornaments, rather than tools. In fact, even when copper and bronze tools came to be commonly used, they were often used side by side with stone tools. Metal only became the dominant material for manufacturing tools with the introduction late in this era, which itself would lead to an entirely new phase in cultural development.

Bronze tools from the Philippines' early metal age have been encountered in various sites, but they were not apparently widespread. This has been attributed to the fact that is no local source of the tin which would have had to be combined with copper to produce bronze. Robert Fox notes: "There is, for example, no real evidence of a "Bronze Age" or "Copper-Bronze Age in the archipelago, a development which occurred in many areas of the world. The transition, as shown by recent excavation, was from stone tools to iron tools."

The lack of tin has led most anthropologists to believe that the bronze implements were imported to the country. But the bronze smelting technology has been found in sites in Palawan, which indicates that the bronze brought in through import would at some point have been resmelted and remolded.

Introduction of Iron

When Iron was introduced to the Philippines, it became the preferred technology for crafting tools, overshadowing early use of copper, bronze, and largely drawing the use of stone tools to a close. But there is some question among anthropoligsts as to the exact source of Iron in the Philippines during this era. Beyer thought that it was mined locally, but other scholars point out that no artifactual evidence of iron smelting has been found, such that iron tools were probably imported rather than produced locally.

Metalsmiths from this era had already developed a crude version of modern metallurgical processes, notably the hardening of soft iron through carburization.

Expansion of Trade (1st Century - 14th Century AD)

Jocano refers to the time between the 1st and 14th Century AD as the Philippines' emergent phase. It was characterized by intensive trading, and saw the rise of definable social organization, and, among the more progressive communities, the rise of certain dominant cultural patterns. The advancements that brought this period were made possible by the increased use of iron tools, which allowed such stable patterns to form. This era also saw the development of writing. The first surviving written artifact from the Philippines, now known as the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, was written in 900 AD, marking the end of what is considered Philippine prehistory and heralding the earliest phase of Philippine history - that of the time between the first written artifact in 900 AD and the arrival of colonial powers in 1521.

The emergence of Barangay city-states and thassalocratic trade (200AD-900AD)

Since at least the 3rd century, the indigenous peoples were in contact with other Southeast Asian and East Asian nations.

Fragmented ethnic groups established numerous city-states formed by the assimilation of several small political units known as barangay each headed by a Datu, who was then answerable to a Rajah, who headed the city state. Each barangay consisted of about 100 families. Some barangays were big, such as Zubu (Cebu), Butuan, Maktan (Mactan), Irong-Irong (Iloilo), Bigan (Vigan), and Selurong (Manila). Each of these big barangays had a population of more than 2,000.

Even scattered barangays, through the development of inter-island and international trade, became more culturally homogeneous by the 4th century.Hindu-Buddhist culture and religion flourished among the noblemen in this era.

By the 9th century, a highly developed society had already established several hierarchies with set professions: The Datu or ruling class, the Maharlika or noblemen, the Timawa or freemen, and the dependent class which is divided into two, the Aliping Namamahay (Slave) and Aliping Saguiguilid (Serfs).

Many of the barangay were, to varying extents, under the de-jure jurisprudence of one of several neighboring empires, among them the Malay Sri Vijaya, Javanese Majapahit, Brunei, Melaka empires, although de-facto had established their own independent system of rule. Trading links with Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand, Java, China, India, Arabia, Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom flourished during this era. A thalassocracy had thus emerged based on international trade.

In the earliest times, the items which were prized by the peoples included jars, which were a symbol of wealth throughout South Asia, and later metal, salt and tobacco. In exchange, the peoples would trade feathers, rhino horn, hornbill beaks, beeswax, birds nests, resin, rattan.

In the period between the 7th century to the beginning of the 1400s, numerous prosperous centers of trade had emerged, including the Kingdom of Namayan which flourished alongside Manila Bay, Cebu, Iloilo, Butuan, the Kingdom of Sanfotsi situated in Pangasinan, the Kingdoms of Zabag and Wak-Wak situated in Pampanga and Aparri (which specialized in trade with Japan and the Kingdom of Ryukyu in Okinawa).

Archeological Sources

Philippine history and anthropologists had only until very recently been limited to the rare artifacts that were discovered after the Spanish period, which had seen many artifacts from the pre-Hispanic era destroyed or reconverted. A good example of which is the Spanish walled city of Intramuros in Manila, whose stone bricks were ripped from the original fortified city wall (known in Malay/tagalog as a Kota/kuta) of pre-Hispanic Maynila. This explains the development of numerous theories about the prehistory of the Philippines over the course of the 20th up to the present, as new evidences present themselves.


  1. Very nice and helpful!
    Good words and nice prolong...
    :) Keep up the good work.