Philippines Prehistoric People

The Philippines is an ancient land that had a unique culture and society long before there was western contact. The unspoilt culture however, has remained undiscovered. The Filipino heritage is a potential source of nationalistic pride, just waiting to be tapped and revealed. Just how long have we lived is implied by a digging done by Robert Fox at 121 centimeters of the Tabon Caves revealed a habitation level containing charcoal dated by radiocarbon-14 to 30,000 years ago-long before man inhabited the Americas and the New World.

Theories about the prehistoric period vary. Since prehistorians depend heavily on artifacts and other finds, it is difficult to come up with one perfect theory. Dr. Eusebio Dizon of the Philippine National Museum says that with less than ten percent of artifacts dug up, we have a long way to go before we could give a single theory about the prehistoric man and his surroundings. While we indeed know that the first people were hunters, followed by agriculturists who decided to settle instead of being nomadic, questions about details remain unanswered. Questions like what kind of animals did the hunters hunt? What kind of food did the gatherers gather? What crops did the agriculturists plant? And what, specifically, did the ancient man eat? These questions, unfortunately remain unanswered, as it is not easy to look for the answers to them. In Dr. Dizon's words, the artifacts cannot speak for themselves.

The division of periods as well as the span each period covers differ among many archeologists and anthropologists. Among the theories that will be discussed here are those by Robert Fox, Otley Beyer, and Wilhelm Solheim II. Another theory by Landa Jocano, one in which Solheim's theory is based, will be discussed briefly. But regardless of the theories, facts remain the same: the earliest traces of Philippine prehistoic man and their tools are found in Palawan, at the mouth of the South China Sea. A group of caves called the Tabon Caves is perhaps every archeologist's utopia in the Philippines. Tools from different periods in prehistory have been dug up in the said sites. How long ago the tools were or how long ago the men and animals whose traces have been found lived is learned through a complex process of analyzing the finds. Unfortunately, the Philippines currently does not have the equipment needed to analyze these finds. The artifacts and fossils are sent to another country for analysis then sent back to the Philippines after determining essential things like the age and the composition of the finds.

Why in Palawan? Robert Fox offers an explanation in his series of lectures at the National Museum (Fox, 1967). According to him, Palawan is the perfect corridor that bridged the Philippine Islands and Borneo. Looking at Palawan's geographical location and physical appearance, it is not so hard to imagine that it used to connect the Philippines with nearby islands. In fact, it is even nearer to Borneo than it is to other parts of the country, say Mindanao, or Cebu.

In the island, the Tabon Caves hold the place of distinction as being the place where some of the oldest artifacts that tell silent tales about prehistoric Philippines were dug up from there. It is located in the southwest coast of Palawan and is relatively an isolated place as there are few inhabitants of the area even at present. It holds deposits from 6 to 8 meters deep.

The Tabon Caves, however, are only few of the caves found in the island. Presently located at the mouth of the South China Sea, these caves surprisingly show no fossils of shell and other marine fossils along with the other findings in the cave during the Paleolithic era, suggesting that it used to be part of a stretch of land. This is, accodring to Mr. Paniza, a geologist, because during that period, the Tabon Caves were located 35 kilometers from the sea during the Ice Age because glaciers from the North hemisphere absorbed a sizable amount of the sea's water. Thus, the sea was too far from the caves for man to gather shellfish and other seafood.

With so little of the artifacts and fossils being recovered, little is known about our forefathers. while this is mostly due to the fact that it takes a long time to excavate sites, looters who dig up the artifacts to sell them to collectors also help in making the task of knowing more about philippine prehistory more difficult. Archeological context is highly essential in being able to analyze finds. Collectors can only show the artifcats, but can never give the correct context. Artifacts that have fallen in the hands of the collectors are as god as those never found, because when out of context, they are dumb and could not tell their tales.

Robert Fox Fox divides the Philippine prehistoric period into four parts, namely the paleolithic era, the neolithic era,the Metal Age and the Age of Contact and Trade. This last era of Fox's division is disputed by Dr. Dizon, who is of the opinion that prehistory ends where written artifacts begin. While not exactly part of the historical era, Dr. Dizon places the trade era under an intermediary period, which he calls Proto-history. Robert Fox believes that the first men who came to the Philippine archipelago inhabited the islands ever since the Paleolithic era (500,000 year ago). Excavations in the Tabon Caves in Palawan reveal fossils of prehistoric animals-elephants giant tortoises, and others-along with artifacts that leave traces of man's inhabitation of the said caves. Chert and choppers made of hard stone were recovered in the said caves, with man and animal bones scattered in the surroundings. From these fossils, archeologists believe that men occupied the caves from time to time since over a period of 50,000 years. According to Robert Fox, however, the revelation of these artifacts is not enough for one to make a conclusion, as none have been found in an undisturbed archeological context.

As other similar tools are found in nearby caves, it seems likely, according to Fox, that the ancient man occupied the said area from time to time.

Mr. Fox explains how they came to the Philippines by their nomadic ways. The ancient men of the paleolithic period were mostly hunters and gatherers. Since food and other resources are exhaustible, they had to look for other places to hunt in or gather food in to survive. Looking at the geographical structure of Palawan, it is not surprising that ancient man passed the place from time to time. Palawan, in the words of Fox, is a natural bridge that connects the Philippine Islands to Borneo. During the ice age when water level of the sea was low, men used it as a land bridge, making the island the "perfect corridor" of the Philippines. Fox believes that later on, after the melting of the ice, men from the south sailed into the archipelago from nearby coasts, depending heavily on the monsoon winds to blow them into either the east or west coast of Palawan.

Among the tools found in the Tabon caves are chert, made of cryptochrystalline quartz, and river pebbles knapped at one end and used as hammers and choppers that date back to 50,000 to 9,000 years ago. With the exception of some marine shells found in the Guri Cave, a cave also in Palawan, tools similar to those in the Tabon caves have been unearthed, dating to 4,000 years ago. It has been concluded that the change of lifestyle during the Paleolithic period was slow. There has been no dramatic change in tools, ergo the lifestyle of ancient men from 50,000 BC to 4,000 BC.

When the ice melted and land bridges sank, the neolithic era began. It was the start of dramatic changes in the tools of ancient man. tools during this period were much more superior to the simple chert and river pebbles of the paleolithc man. Axes, gouges made by flaking, and then later on polishing and sawing hard stone, are some of these tools which were used to fell trees and provide clearings for planting. Another kind of tool found in this era, shell adzes, were made from giant clams called Indaena gigas. These tools which are, according to Fox, common only in the Pacific were found in cave sites in Palawan. These were identical to adzes found in cave sites in Micronesia, and had also been excavated in Sulu. Charcoal samples estimate it to be 5,000 years old, fitting the estimate when man first sailed into the Pacific.

Neolithic people were mobile, most probably seafarers. There are two general theories on where the neolithic man who inhabited the Phililippines comes from, as is discussed by Solheim and Bellwood in the Language part of the Philippines Prehistoric Culture article.

In 500-400 BC, People started to use gold, silver and bronze. Fox believes that the usage of these came earlier than iron, which he surmised had been used in 200 BC. Because of this, Fox does not believe that there ever was a true Bronze Age. Instead, there was a shifting from stone tools to iron implements. Because of the rapid spread of iron, the age of the development of bronze, and even of copper was submerged. Along with the development of bronze, which Fox believes to have been recast and not made locally (the islands have no source of tin), were the coming of glass and jade ornaments, the most known of which was nephrite. Similar recoveries in South China and Northern Indochina prompts Fox to suggest major movements from the south of China, towards the south of mainland Asia, and eventually reaching the Philippines, by boat, passing through the margins of the land. It is too treacherous, according to Fox, for the ancinet man to have crossed the South Cina Sea. Thus, the Philippines have closer ties with South China in terms of culture.

Changes in this period were dramatic. It has not been established whether glass was recast here or were made locally, but use of it became extensive. Weaving was done using back looms, arguably the ones that are still being used by those in the Mountain Province and Mindanao. Cloth weaved from abaca fiber replaced the bark cloth among the "sophisticate people," as Fox calls them. Agriculture, which was introduced during the neolithic period, improved and so did horticulture. Settlements were found among the coasts, bays, or rivers. This made it easier for the people to catch fish and gather shellfish for tools and food.

The period of trade began in the 11th century, or possibly earlier. Fox believes that the earliest traders who traded in the islands were Arabs. The Chinese came during the 13th century and traded porcelain for stonewares and local pottery. Trade potteries represented formal trade relations between the two countries. 40,000 pieces have been recovered in the Philippines with 80% coming from South China. The earthenware vessels and jars produced locally were gradually being replaced by jars with dragon designs.

Henry Otley Beyer

Probably the oldest theory about how ancient man came to the Philippines, the wave theory of migration (1947) is also one of the most attacked theories. Dr. Dizon, for one, says that the theory is not based on facts. It is, however, the one most known to Filipinos because the grade school textbooks still use this as a means of explanation as to how ancient man came to the country. According to Beyer, there was a core population who lived 250,000 years ago. They were primitive humanssimilar to the Java Man. This group was the ancestors of the two pygmy groups who came to the Philippine Islands via the land bridges 30,000-25,000 years ago (Pleistoscene Era). From the south these people, who were of Australoid-Sakai type, came to the islands. They were hunters and gatherers. Then 6,000-5,000 years ago, another group, which Beyer branded as Indonesian A, came in boats. They were of tall and slender stock, and were inhabitants of the north. This group was followed by another wave of migrants 2,500 year ago, the Indonesian B. Shorter and stockier than their predecessors, this group were more advanced. They were horticulture people who, Beyer surmised, came from South China and Indochina towards Luzon and Formosa (now Taiwan). The last group of people who migrated to the Philippines, the Malays, were, for Beyer, the most advanced of all the races. They were also from the south, with mongoloid features--a mixture of ancient Indonesians and mongoloid elements. They had knowledge in pottery, glassmaking, iron making, weaving, and had their own political system. They also came in boats, which Beyer called the Baranggay. The samwe name was used to connote the unitary political system of the race. The name was retained and is still being used up the present time.

Landa Jocano

Jocano's theory (1975) is that the Philippine society developed as a single unitary system. This theory is not without criticisms. According to Dr. Dizon, it is improbable that the Philippines be considered as a single whole during this time because the influences in the different islands vary, depending on what other islands they are near to. Dizon cites that artifacts dug from Mindanao could be very different from those dug up in the Batanes region. For Jocano, the Filipino culture developed from within the country and not as a part of the Southeast Asia cultural milieu. He gives three major time categories, the Formative period, further divided into the old and new stone age, the Incipient period, and the Emergent period.

The Formative period, which is from 500,000 to 250,000 years ago, began when the first hominids arrived in the Tabon Caves in Palawan. The old stone age reveals core and flaked stone tools while the new stone age sees the dawn of the development of techniques in grinding and polishing stone tools. It was also during this time that pottery making and horticulture was introduced.

The Incipient period was marked by the local manufacture of metal artifacts, the improvement of earthenware pottery, the acquisition of the form and decorative techniques, and the beginning of long distance trade, as evidenced by the recovery of jade and glass ornaments in burial sites.

Trade further flourished during the Emeregent period. There was expansion of the Southeast Asian population contact which ended when the Indian influence reached the Philippines in 100 AD, rendering the exclusivity of Southeast Asian neighbors to the Philippines invalid. It was also during this time that the Filipino social organization became defined interms of politics, economics, religion, and others. Patterns of cultural behaviour began to show.

Wilhelm Solheim II

Solheim's theory of how the ancient people populated the country is based on Jocano's theory, and is a revision of the latter. In 1981, Solheim came up with a theory marked by four different periods: the archais period, the Incipient Filipino, the Formative Period, and the Established Filipino. Solheim clarified, however, that details in the theory, especially the dates, were subject to change upon acquisition of new data that may prove his theory false. Solheim gives a further disclaimer that his theory is not a detailed discussion of all available Philippine Prehistoric data. The Archaic period of Solheim began from the arrival of man in the islands up to 5,000 BC While the Incipient Filipino period began from where the Archaic period ended and stopped in 1,000BC. Here, Solheim talks about the Nusantao, the maritime people who travelled, according to him, from southern Philippines in the Mindanao Island and Indonesia to the north, ending in South China and passing through Taiwan. Dr. Dizon agrees that this theory might be the closest since artifacts found in South China seem to have come later than those found in the Philippines. The Formative Filipino Period came in 1,000 BC to 500AD, and the established Filipino came after 500AD up to 1521. The people in the last phase of Solheim's time frame were mostly traders.

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