Archie Tiauzon: Searching for the Paleolithic Visayas

Archie taking a break

This post is an interview on a colleague of mine, Archie Tiauzon, who has been on the hunt for evidences of Paleolithic occupation in the Central Philippine region. He taught in the History Department of the University of San Carlos in the early 2000s and, later, pursued graduate studies in the Archaeological Studies Program of UP Dilliman. At present, he is in France completing the course requirements for a degree in Quartenary and Prehistory.

He is one of the very few archaeologists interested in the Pleistocene period in the Philippines. Contrary to what leading archaeologists say, Archie believes that Pleistocene deposits can be found in  Central Philippines.

“Who knows Homo floresiensis or Homo erectus may have visited the Central Philippine islands at some point,” he contends.

That’s a stubborn guy right there. I would never doubt the zeal and commitment of Archie because I have seen him work in the field. He is a consummate fieldworker and “digger.” He traversed steep mountains and hills in search of Paleolithic artifacts. He navigated cliffs to reach pristine caves that, he believes, are potential occupation sites. Many times, he was accosted by the local police on suspicion that he was a communist guerilla and, luckily, never spent a day in prison. In archaeological excavations, he is tireless and analytical, scraping every layer of earth to reveal the Philippine past.

Only time could really tell if Archie is right. So, here is my interview with Archie Tiauzon, great guy, consummate believer, and future discoverer of the Paleolithic Visayas:

Callao Cave

Bonn: What got you started in archaeology?

Archie: It started 10 years ago when John Peterson and I did an archaeological survey in the town of Alegria, located in the southwest coast of Cebu. We went inside the cave and encountered a pile of human bones associated with rich archaeological deposits (comprising earthenware sherds with elaborate designs).  The morphology and designs of the ceramics indicated that they were Iron Age artifacts.  It was a very important discovery because it showed the complex mortuary practices carried out by the inhabitants of Alegria two thousand years ago.

Bonn: How was it working with John Peterson?

Archie: John Peterson and I have a special bond. First of all, he is my mentor. Dr. John Peterson introduced me to an archaeological landscape survey in Alegria and taught me how to record a site. That was the turning point that inspired me to be an archaeologist. I am very thankful for his encouragement and ideas. He is very supportive. In fact, he financially supported me when I was doing my Masters course in UP Diliman. He is a brilliant archaeologist and continues to inspire students who are dedicated in delving our past. He also treats me as his son.  I enjoy doing landscape archaeology with him. I’m looking forward to working with him in the future.

Bonn: What was your master’s thesis when you were at UP Dilliman?

Archie: My previous research thesis was about Landscape Archaeology. I did a case study in Alegria. The research is the first intensive archaeological landscape survey conducted in the southwest coast of Cebu. I chose this topic because the literature is silent on where to find archaeological sites in that region and also the time of human occupation is not scientifically recorded yet. Reconnaissance surveys and establishing baseline chronology of prehistoric sites are of prime importance in archaeology.

Bonn: How important were your findings to the understanding of Cebu prehistory (or Philippine prehistory in general)?

Archie: The results of my investigation showed the different episodes of prehistoric human occupation in the Alegria landscape, ranging from the Neolithic to the Protohistoric Period. It demonstrated the varying patterns of residence in each period. Neolithic settlements were mostly found on the interior zone in river valley platforms while Proto-historic people occupied the coastal landscape. I believe, based on the strength of the archaeological data, that the results proved that Neolithic occupation occurred in the southwest coast of Cebu similar to other Neolithic sites of Palawan, Batanes, and Cagayan Valley.

Bonn: I heard that you’re in France doing another Masters. What is this graduate study about? What thesis topic will you be investigating later on?

Archie: The second Masters course that I’m taking here in MNHN Paris, France is on Quaternary Prehistory. This covers all of the human past, mainly from Lower Pleistocene to Holocene. Such program allows one to specialize in Prehistory, may it be Paleoanthropology, Lithics, Paleoenvironment, Geoarchaeology, Geochronology and Zooarchaeology. I might be focusing on the stone tools from Indonesia. But I don’t know yet what period but, hopefully, it will be on tools associated with hominid sites.

Bonn: Some Philippine archaeologists doubt that you can find anything (before the Neolithic) in Central Philippines considering the geological age of the islands, what made you disagree with them?

Archie: Paleolithic occupation in the Central Philippines is a very promising thought. Saying that there is no Palaeolithic in this region is a very hasty judgment. Two years ago, we did a reconnaissance survey in Bohol Island together with some National Museum personnel and two of my French professors. We found that the cave sites in the area are potential occupation sites. We just need to dig deeper. Remember Homo floresiensis was found only 12m deep in Liang Bua. My French professors dug up to 14-16m deep on a cave site in Indonesia and the oldest date they got is 300,000 B.P. In terms of geological uplift, at least it is pretty safe to say that at the start of the Miocene period, major islands in Central Philippines were already brought to the surface. Thus, Pleistocene archaeological research in this area is really right on track.

Bonn: What are the prospects of learning more about our Paleolithic past?

Archie: We have to continue doing reconnaissance surveys and excavate deeper. Who knows Homo floresiensis or Homo erectus may have visited the Central Philippine islands at some point.

Bonn: Care to give us your final message for this blog?

Archie: Life is too short. (Laughs) Walk with me on the field and I guarantee you will enjoy it.

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