Shaving with Obsidian Blade

I will be updating this blog regularly after the dusts of Christmas settle down. Holidays here in Puerto Rico is quite intense (like in the Philippines) and there’s a lot of heartwarming activities that could divert your time away from blogging. In the meantime, here’s Mike Cook, primitive skills educator, showing us how to shave with obsidian blades.

Vodpod videos no longer available.



Wilfredo Ronquillo on the Development of Philippine Archaeology (2001)

I came across an article by Wilfredo Ronquillo, National Scientist of the Philippines awardee, about the development of archaeology in the country. Although the article is rather dated, it is very instructive in locating the major theoretical trends and important personages in the growth of Philippine archaeology. Since the publication of this article (2001), major advances have been made in understanding the Paleolithic scene of the country. This is best exemplified by Armando Mijares’ report of a 67,000 year old human remains in Callao Cave in Tuguegarao City, Cagayan. The future of Philippine archaeology is bright.

SOURCE: Ronquillo, Wilfredo. 2001. Philippines in Encyclopedia of Archaeology: History and Discoveries. (ed.) Murray, Tim.  Tim Murray: Santa Barbara, California.

The Philippines, lying at the eastern margin of mainland Asia, has been a crossroad for the movements of peoples and ideas from the mainland to the Pacific islands since prehistoric times. Manila likewise has been the key entrepôt of maritime trade and commerce, notably during the almost 250 years (from 1564 to 1815) when the Manila galleons sailed the Pacific Ocean between Manila and Mexico.

Philippine archaeological resources, both on land and under water, are abundant and phenomenal. Archaeological sites range from the earliest indirect evidence for the presence of man in Cagayan Valley, northern Luzon, during the Middle Pleistocene to sixteenth-century dugout wooden coffin burials in northeastern Mindanao. Recent archaeological finds in the country also indicate the existence of complex societies in the northern, central, and southern Philippines, the latter dating as early as the ninth century A.D.

Important archaeological discoveries also include a flotilla of plank-built and edge-pegged wooden boats found in a waterlogged environment that range in date from the fourth to the thirteenth centuries a.d. Throughout Southeast Asia and, indeed, the world at this time, only in the Philippines are such prehistoric boats known to exist.

The history of archaeology in the Philippines elucidates the rich and varied archaeological wealth of the country, as well as the pivotal roles that pioneering individuals played in the evolution, history, and growth of archaeology in the country.

For convenience, this updated history is presented in periods that parallel the political administrations of the archipelago from the sixteenth century to the present: the Spanish Period (1521-1898); the American Period (1898-1946); the post-World War II era and the 1950s; the l960s; the 1970s; the 1980s; and the 1990s to the present. Space limitations allow the inclusion of only the most important archaeological discoveries since the 1960s.

The Spanish Period (1521-1898)

Although Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippines on March 16, 1521, Spanish colonization of the archipelago did not begin in earnest until 1565. The Spanish explorers and colonizers noted the variety of Philippine cultures and languages. The early Spanish chroniclers of Philippine society and culture were generally members of religious orders; they primarily wrote ethnographic reports intended for Spain’s ruling monarch or their own religious superiors.

The early Spanish writings were mostly descriptive in character, depicting, in varying details, the physical appearances and lifeways of the Filipinos as observed by the writers. At a later time a great deal of linguistic studies were conducted and subsequently published together with the ethnographic reports.

Several chroniclers reported on archaeological discoveries, including Antonio de Morga, the vice-governor general of the Philippines in the seventeenth century who, in his Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, noted ancient artifacts found by farmers in Luzon.

The only recorded important archaeological reconnaisance undertaken in the archipelago during the Spanish period was conducted in 1881 by Alfred Marche, a French archaeologist who systematically explored the central Philippines and discovered numerous sites. He collected varied archaeological specimens, mainly porcelains and stonewares recovered primarily from burial caves. The majority of his collections are now kept at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. Marche’s exploration activities at Marinduque Island became “the most successful Philippine archaeological expedition recorded from Spanish times” (Beyer 1947, 260).

An Austrian, professor Ferdinand Blumentritt, also published a series of articles about the Philippines and its people around this time. Cursory exploration of caves and open archaeological sites were undertaken in several areas in the Philippines between 1860 and 1881, including those by the German traveler Feodor Jagor in 1860 and J. Montano and Paul Rey between 1879 and 1881.

The American Period (1898-1946)

The Philippines were occupied by the United States in 1898, and the U.S. administration of the archipelago began a year later. President William McKinley created the Taft Commission in 1900 in an attempt to craft proper legislation for the Philippines. The commission, in turn, established the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes. This bureau, which changed names through the years, was placed under different institutions and was eventually abolished.

In 1901 the first government museum was created, designated as the Insular Museum of Ethnology, Natural History, and Commerce, and was placed under the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes. In the course of its existence the museum went through various changes, but it was never abolished. Today, it isa government bureau within the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports and is now officially called the National Museum.

Considered the founder of Philippine archaeology, Henry Otley Beyer (1883-1966), an American from Iowa, arrived in Manila in 1905 to join the civil service. His pioneering works resulted in much of what was known about Philippine prehistory. Three years with the Philippine Bureau of Education found him among the Ifugao of northern Luzon, serving as a schoolteacher and documenting their lifeways. In 1914 he founded the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines, and his first writing on Philippine archaeology came out in 1921. As head of the anthropology department, Beyer studied the racial and cultural history of the country.

From 1922 to 1925 Carl Guthe from the University of Michigan led an archaeological expedition to the central Philippines. Guthe was the first trained archaeologist to work in the archipelago, and his exploration activities focused on the collection of ceramics in the hope that these materials would shed light on the early maritime trade between the Philippines and mainland Southeast Asia. He identified 542 archaeological sites and collected more than 30 cubic tons of archaeological specimens, which are now are kept at the University Museum of the University of Michigan.

Early 1926 saw Beyer’s first involvement in field archaeology, via the accidental discovery of major prehistoric sites at Novaliches during the construction of a dam for the water supply of Manila. Beyer’s ensuing investigation was to be the start of the Rizal-Bulacan Archaeological Survey. By the middle of 1930 excavation activities had also reached Bulacan Province, and in five years of work a total of 120 sites had been identified, with the collection of almost half a million specimens.

Personnel of the National Museum conducted surveys and excavations during the 1930s. In 1934 Ricardo E. Galang, the first Filipino-trained archaeologist, spent two months excavating fourteenth- to fifteenth-century sites at Calatagan, Batangas. In 1938 he investigated a jar burial at San Narciso, Quezon. He recorded a total of six jar burial and midden sites in the area and recovered associated materials of shell bracelets, beads, and ceramics.

In 1938 Generoso Maceda, another staff member of the National Museum, identified a jar burial site in Pilar, Sorsogon Province, in southern Luzon. Twenty-four jars containing artifacts were excavated in three sites (Evangelista 1962, 21). In 1940 Olov Janse, a Swedish-American archaeologist with support from Harvard University, conducted archaeological excavations in the Calatagan sites. Working in three sites, he excavated a total of sixty-six graves, the results of which were published in the annual report of the Smithsonian Institution (Janse 1946).

There was a complete cessation of archaeological activities during the Japanese occupation of the archipelago (1941-1945). Beyer, who was under conditional internment, was assisted by Tadao Kano, a Japanese civilian assigned to protect museums in the Philippines. The Japanese allowed Beyer to continue working at the museum of the University of the Philippines and at the Institute of Ethnology and Archaeology, which enabled him to pursue his research writing and complete the final sections of his major postwar publications (Evangelista 1962; Jocano 1975; Solheim 1981).

Post-World War II and the 1950s

An increased interest in the beginnings of Philippine society and culture developed in the years after World War II, and archaeology as a course was included in the curriculum at the University of the Philippines. Beyer’s research writings during the war years resulted in two important publications, his “Outline Review of Philippine Archaeology by Islands and Provinces” and his Philippine and East Asian Archaeology, and Its Relation to the Origin of the Pacific Islands Population (Beyer 1947, 1948). These major works are invaluable as references for archaeologists working in the Philippines to this date.

Archaeological exploration and excavation activities resumed in the l950s, led by two Americans, Wilhelm G. Solheim II and Robert B. Fox. Both were pivotal in arousing the interest of a number of Filipinos to pursue careers in archaeology. With an M.A. in anthropology from the University of California, Solheim published his first work on Philippine prehistory and archaeology in 1951. He conducted archaeological excavations from 1951 to 1953 in Masbate Island with two Filipino students, Alfredo E. Evangelista and E. Arsenio Manuel. Archaeological data generated from the excavations there were collated with the archaeological materials from the Guthe collection recovered in the 1920s from the central Philippines, resulting in The Archaeology of the Central Philippines: A Study Chiefly of the Iron Age and Its Relationships (Solheim 1964).

Fox (1918-1985) wrote avidly and extensively about Philippine ethnology, archaeology, and natural history from the late 1940s until 1973. He stayed in the Philippines after his service with the U.S. Navy during the war. With B.A. and M.A. degrees in anthropology, Fox was active in Philippine ethnography before focusing his attention on the archipelago’s prehistory.

Major fieldwork in the 1950s was undertaken through the National Museum under the direction of Fox, working with Evangelista and several other members of the museum staff. In 1956 Fox and Evangelista excavated the Sorsogon Province of southern Luzon. A jar burial/stone-tool assemblage was encountered; the sites range in date from 2900 to 2000 b.p.

The most extensive archaeological project in the middle of the 1950s was the Calatagan, Batangas, Archaeological Project south of Manila led by Fox. Over 500 pre-Spanish graves were excavated in a number of burial sites, resulting in the recovery of thousands of trade ceramics-Chinese and Siamese porcelains and stonewares of the late-fourteenth to early-sixteenth centuries a.d. Extended primary burials were revealed as well as secondary burials in jars, with some graves exhibiting evidence of teeth filing and ornamentations. It is unfortunate that the 1950s excavations at Calatagan would witness the start of widespread pothunting activities, which continue to this day.

The 1960s

Fox led major archaeological activities for the National Museum from 1962 to 1966 in a number of caves along the west coast of Palawan, known collectively as the Tabon Caves. Work in this area resulted in the discovery of late-Pleistocene human fossil remains and associated stone implements.

Going back to over 30,000 years ago, six successive periods of prehistoric occupation were found. The C-14 dates available for the Tabon Caves range from 30,500±1100 b.p. and 9250±250 b.p. At nearby Manunggul Cave an earthenware burial jar was found with incised and hematite-painted designs about the shoulder and cover (the latter having a ship-of-the-dead motif dating from 890 to 710 b.c.); it is now one of the country’s National Cultural Treasures.

The preliminary results of the archaeological work at the Tabon Caves were published by Fox in 1970. This work included information on human bone fragments that, although recovered from a disturbed area of the caves, have been dated from 22,000 to 24,000 years ago-still the earliest evidence for Homo sapiens in the Philippines.

In 1966 significant archaeological sites were discovered right in the city of Manila. Known as the Santa Ana Sites, they exhibited both habitations and burials that “date more than 400 years before the arrival of the Spaniards in Manila” (Fox and Legaspi 1977, 1). The main burial site excavated was originally an archaeological mound on which the present Santa Ana Church was built, and the associated tradeware ceramics recovered from the burials date from the late eleventh to the fourteenth centuries a.d.

In 1967 cursory underwater archaeological activities were undertaken by the National Museum and the Times-Mirror-Taliba, a now-defunct newspaper outfit, in Albay, 500 kilometers south of Manila. Believed to be a Spanish galleon, the ship was found 40 to 65 meters below the surface. In addition to two large designs. C-14 dating of shells recovered from this site resulted in dates ranging from 8000 to 6500 b.p.

Shell adzes were also noted from Duyong Cave, Palawan, in the Ryukus Islands, and on other Pacific islands.

The 1970s

The 1970s saw a profusion of archaeological research undertaken by both Filipino and foreign archaeologists. The elephant fossil sites in Cagayan Valley, northern Luzon, which had previously been reported, were explored and excavated in the 1970s by the National Museum. Led by Fox, the research uncovered hundreds of fossilized remains of mammals such as elephants, stegodon, rhinoceros, crocodile, giant tortoise, pig, and deer, as well as flaked and cobblestone tools (Fox and Peralta 1972).

The first three large mammals in this group are now extinct in the Philippines. Encumbered by geological problems in the open sites of Cagayan Valley, Richard Shutler Jr., then with the University of Iowa, was crucial in sending to the country a succession of geologists and geomorphologists from Iowa State University. Led by Carl Vondra in 1977, these researchers defined the Plio-Pleistocene terrestrial sequence in the Cagayan Valley basin, demonstrating the in situ association of artifacts and Pleistocene fauna, the age of artifacts, and the Plio-Pleistocene environments in the valley. Geological research has since solved the majority of the problems of the Pleistocene geology of the area, but the debate over the age of the artifacts still continues.

In 1972 Solheim and A. M. Legaspi led an archaeological survey of coastal southeastern Mindanao, a joint project of the National Museum and the University of Hawaii (Solheim, Legaspi, and Neri 1979). The Talikod rock-shelter sites, where flaked shell and stone tools were recovered, are the earliest sites recorded from the survey, with dates ranging from 7620 ±120 b.p. and 3950±90 b.p.

Two ethno-archaeology studies were undertaken in the 1970s. The first was conducted by Bion and Agnes Griffin among the Agta Negritos in the Sierra Madre range of northeastern Luzon from 1974 to 1976. With the goal of providing models for adjustments to hunting and gathering in wet and seasonal environments, the researchers hoped that the results of the study might be utilized for an archaeological understanding of hunters in tropical settings.

William Longacre of the University of Arizona directed an ethno-archaeological study in pottery-making villages in Kalinga Apayao, northern Luzon. Designed to provide data directly relevant to archaeological methods for inferring patterns of behavior and organization of peoples who lived in the past, the project, now in its third decade, has revealed significant insights into the manufacture, distribution, uses, breakages, and discarding of ceramics and how these and other material culture relate to human behavior.

From 1977 to 1978 archaeological surveys and limited excavations were undertaken in Iloilo Province, Panay, in the central Philippines. Australian archaeologists from the Victoria Archaeological Survey, led by Peter Coutts, focused their research on the establishment of a regional sequence, on the study of tradeware ceramics on Panay Island, on the recording of local pottery-making traditions and their trading networks, and on the collection of osteological materials for comparative studies.

While the geologists were working out the problems at the open sites at Cagayan Valley, the National Museum archaeologists concentrated their research activities in Penablanca, about 15 kilometers east of the Pleistocene open sites. Led by Wilfredo Ronquillo and R. A. Santiago, exploration activities in the limestone area resulted in the recording of over 100 caves and rock shelters, eight of which have since been excavated. Basically aimed at elucidating the structure and distribution of the stone-tool industries in the area, the technological and functional analyses of the lithic flaked tools and debitage recovered from the excavations of Rabel Cave (ranging from 4900 to 3000 b.p.) indicated the generalized functions of the flake tools, which made them ideal for use as maintenance tools; the manufacture of the stone flaked tools involved a percussion method without core preparation.

In 1977 Barbara Thiel, then a graduate student at the University of Illinois, excavated two caves at Penablanca, Cagayan Province-Arku by the recovery of cordage of palm fibers. Their presence indicates that an older ship-building method was used. The Butuan archaeological assemblage points to a complex society in this area, indicated by craft specialization (such as wood, bone, and shell working, pottery manufacture, bead reworking, and metallurgy-specifically gold working) and the capability to participate in long-distance trade.

In 1979 an archaeological program led by Karl Hutterer of the University of Michigan started an interdisciplinary project focused on the prehistoric social and cultural development of a small geographical area in Negros Oriental. Known as the Bais Anthropological Project, the research, participated in by graduate students from Michigan, generated archaeological, ethnographic, biological, and geological data used to provide an overall understanding of prehistoric and present-day societies in Negros.

The 1980s

Archaeologists from the National Museum were busy during the 1980s. Although limited in manpower, the museum is the only institution that undertakes full-time archaeological research activities in the country. One of its priority activities is rescue archaeology, which involves the investigation of caves prior to the mining of bat droppings for use as fertilizer.

In 1981 archaeological exploration activities started at the limestone formation of Anda, in the island province of Bohol in the central Philippines. Designed to explicate the island adaptation of prehistoric man, this project, led by Santiago, resulted in the discovery of over 130 caves and rock shelters, the majority of which are archaeological sites. A number of caves exhibit wooden coffin burials as well as rich prehistoric habitation and burial sites.

Museum archaeologists were active in various areas in the country, such as Laurel, Batangas; Ma-ug, Prosperidad, Agusan del Norte; and Polillo Island, Quezon Province. Important archaeological data were generated from the continuation of the excavations at the Butuan sites in northeastern Mindanao, where primary extended burials indicate teeth filing and blackening.

Laura Junker, Hutterer’s former student and now a professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, did research in Tanjay, Negros Oriental, in the central Philippines. Concentrating on the operation of control over the distribution of prestige goods, tradewares, and earthenware ceramics, Junker used archaeological and ethnohistoric data to test the hypothesis that early Philippine chiefdoms’ participation in Southeast Asian luxury goods trade during the tenth to the sixteenth centuries a.d. was strongly linked to centralized control of a complex intraregional system of production, exchange, and resource mobilization.

In the 1980s numerous underwater archaeological sites were worked by the National Museum. The various shipwrecks found in Philippine territorial waters include Spanish, English, American, and Asian craft, usually with portions of the cargo still intact. The tradeware ceramics help date the ships and cargo. The associated archaeological materials have added new insights into the history of the trade from the ninth to the eighteenth centuries, as well as the nature of the trade and the societies that produced, bartered, and used the goods.

In the majority of cases the sites explored and excavated were worked as joint ventures with private entities. The shipwrecks studied include: one believed to be a merchant boat, found in 1982 on the southeast coast of Marinduque Island, about 150 kilometers south of Manila; a probable local watercraft found in 1983 at Puerto Galera, Mindoro Island; and a sixteenth-century wreck found in 1985 at the Royal Captain Shoal, a coral reef west of Palawan Island. The archaeological materials recovered from this site include porcelain plates, saucers, bowls, cups; boxes and box covers; blue-and-white, pear-shaped, terra-cotta bottles; jarlets; jars; over 200 beads; 33 identical gongs; and bronze, iron, and copper objects. The tradewares recovered from the wreck point to the Wan Li period (1573-1620).

It was also in 1985 when the Griffin, an East India Company vessel, was excavated northwest of Basilan Island in the southern Philippines. Along with numerous Chinese tradeware ceramics, the few metal objects found include iron ingots used as ballast, iron tools in the form of adzes, cannonballs, lead sheets used to line the wooden tea crates, lead musketballs, teapots, a Chinese coin of copper alloy, shoes and belt buckles of copper alloy and gilt bronze, and other objects used for daily life on board the ship.

In 1986 the exploration for the sunken galleon San José was started off the waters of Lubang Island, Mindoro Province. Only portions of the ship’s planks, numerous shards of blue-and-white chocolate cups, and fragments of bronze, iron, and copper materials were recovered.

The 1990s to the Present

Important archaeological discoveries were made in the 1990s. In 1991 earthenware potteries with covers exhibiting anthropomorphic motifs were excavated at Ayub Cave, Pinol, Maitum, Sarangani Province. Led by E. Z. Dizon, the analysis of the potteries, designed and formed like human figures with varied and distinct facial expressions, indicates that they were used as covers for multiple secondary burial jars. Typologically the jars and the associated materials found date to the Metal Age period in the Philippines, around 500 b.c. to 500 a.d.

The year 1991 also marked the start of an archaeological survey for the Spanish warship San Diego, which sank off Fortune Island on December 14, 1600. A joint project of the National Museum and World Wide First, Inc., the excavation found the wreck at a depth of about 50 meters below the sea’s surface. Two seasons of underwater archaeological excavation were undertaken, resulting in the recovery of over 34,000 archaeological items, including tradeware porcelains and stonewares, earthenware vessels, metal artifacts, and various organic materials.

The archaeological materials recovered from the San Diego site include more than 500 blue-and-white Chinese ceramics in the form of plates, dishes, bottles, kendis (spouted water containers), and boxes that may be ascribed to the Ming dynasty, specifically to the Wan Li period; more than 750 Chinese, Thai, Burmese, and Spanish or Mexican stoneware jars; over seventy Philippine-made earthenware potteries influenced by European stylistic forms and types; parts of Japanese samurai swords; 14 bronze cannons of different types and sizes; parts of European muskets; stone and lead cannonballs; metal navigational instruments and implements; silver coins; 2 iron anchors; animal bones and the teeth of pigs and chickens; and seed and shell remains of prunes, chestnuts, and coconut.

Noteworthy among the metal finds are a navigational compass and a maritime astrolabe. Also retrieved from the site is a block of hardened resin that was noted in historical accounts to have been used for caulking and for making fire in stoves. A summary of the excavations and finds is presented in C. Valdes’s Saga of the San Diego, published in 1993.

In the northernmost islands of the Philippines, the Ijangs (megalithic structures situated in elevated hills, indicating evidence of fortification) were confirmed through archaeological explorations and limited excavations. Led by Dizon and Santiago, the cursory archaeological activities indicate that the structures closely resemble the castles reported from Okinawa and date to the twelfth century a.d. These recent finds may prove crucial in the understanding of the formation of sociopolitical complexities in the Philippines.

This concise history of archaeology in the Philippines records the fascinating story of the search for the prehistoric beginnings of the archipelago, which is inextricably linked with mainland Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. Although it may seem that archaeological activities in the country are adequate, there are still countless archaeological sites in the country that need proper assessment, excavation, and management. Unfortunately, these important and nonrenewable components of the country’s cultural resources are also subject to plunder, nearsighted exploitation, and vandalism. Properly managed and protected, these archaeological resources have educational, recreational, and tourism potential. Without doubt, they are worth protecting for the enrichment and enjoyment of succeeding generations.

University of Guam Archaeological Field School in Cebu, Philippines

The University of Guam and the University of San Carlos will be collaborating for this summer’s archaeological field school. Here below is the post from the University of Guam webpage:


The University of Guam, in collaboration with the Archaeological Studies Program-University of the Philippines, the San Carlos University, and the National Museum of the Philippines, is offering a summer archaeological field school. The field school will provide participants intensive training in archaeological site excavation, mapping, and artifact analysis and interpretation as well as training in landscape analysis. The course is open to undergraduate and graduate students from any university, who will earn 6 University of Guam credits. The project is co-directed by Dr. Stephen Acabado, Assistant Professor, University of Guam, Dr. John Peterson, Associate Professor, University of Guam, Dr. Grace Barretto-Tesoro, Associate Professor, Archaeological Studies Program, University of the Philippines, and Prof. Jojo Bersales, University of San Carlos Kabilin Heritage Studies Center. Dr. Acabado and Dr. Peterson will serve as the UOG Instructors of Record.

Field School Description

Students will learn archaeological field techniques by working in real field conditions, working with students and staff from the USA, the Philippines, and the Luce Asian Archaeology Program Fellows of the Department of Anthropology, University of Hawaii-Manoa. The focus of the project is twofold: to document the impact of Spanish colonization on indigenous lifeways (particularly, forced resettlement or reduccion) and early Holocene sea-level changes in the Island of Cebu.  Cebu was the first seat of the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines.  An archaeological survey in 2002 reports that, “Field visits were conducted to additional locales and the 17th or early 18th century visita of Punta Ysabel was found near San Remigio, Cebu. This site will provide an important comparison with the 1599 visita of Salug in Carcar.”

With the longest shoreline in the Island of Cebu and adjacent to other islands in the Philippine Archipelago, ancient San Remegio inhabitants exploited both marine and terrestrial resources.  Previous archaeological work in other parts of the island suggests that Cebu Islanders were contributors to an extensive trade network throughout the islands of the Central Philippines.

Students will learn:

* use of GPS in field survey

* identifying artifacts and ecofacts

* identifying features and sites

* documenting archaeological sites

* the landscape archaeology approach

* site survey techniques

* soil classification and description

* artifacts, feature and site sketching

* field analysis of common artifacts types

* scientific field photography

* field map-making using plane table and total station

* lab and cataloging methods


The UOG Summer 2011 Archaeological Field School will take place in the town of San Remegio, Cebu, Philippines. The town is located in the northwestern part of the Island, about 2-3 hours drive from Cebu City.


Field school participants should schedule to arrive in Manila by May 30, 2010.  We will have pre-excavation orientation as well as lectures on Philippine and Island Southeast Asian archaeology at the University of the Philippines-Diliman May 31-June 1.  Participants will also visit various Manila museums during this period. On June 2, we will travel to Cebu by plane, and from Cebu City airport to San Remegio by van.

We will return to Manila via plane by about June 30th, to catch your flight home by July 2nd.

Course Credits
US-based students will receive 6 college credits:
AN492: Archaeological Field Techniques

Costs and Expenses

Tentative course fees are $3,500.00, which include all tuition, food, housing and travel within the Philippines. The participant is responsible for travel to and from the Philippines (about $1100-$1500 from the US), visa fees, health insurance and personal cash.


Archaeological work involves physical work in the outdoors. You should be aware that conditions in the field are different than those you experience in your home or college town. You will be required to engage in moderate to rigorous climbs. Please bring appropriate footwear and clothing to protect yourself. If you have any concerns, discuss them with your doctor and/or project director as appropriate.


The UOG Cebu Archaeological Field School involves an application process. Students are asked to complete an application form and one (1) recommendation letter by March 15, 2011. Acceptance notifications will be sent by April 15, 2011.


The UOG Cebu Archaeological Field School involves an application process. Students are asked to complete an application form and one (1) recommendation letter by March 15, 2011. Acceptance notifications will be sent by April 15, 2011.
For more information:
Dr. Stephen Acabado
University of Guam
Anthropology Program
Ph: 671-735-2809

Looking into Visayan Sorcery and Witchcraft

This is a section of a paper I wrote in 2004 for the Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. In this paper, I argued for the significance of the power of the belief in the aswang (witch) as a possible causal force in some indigenous mortuary behavior (in lieu of the automatic labeling of these evidences as products of rank and warfare). This excerpt discusses sorcery and witchcraft in the Visayas region and how this might help explain the presence of a prehispanic mass grave (before 1500s).


In the Philippines, particularly in the Visayas or Central Philippines region (where Tanjay is located), a belief in the inherent evil of witches has been and is prevalent. Scott (1995) in his study of Spanish contact period Philippine societies, identified various witch-prototypes in the Visayas. According to Scott, the aswang were “flesh-eaters who devoured the liver like a slow cancer…(and) also ate the flesh of corpses, disinterring them if not well-guarded or actually causing them to disappear in the plain sight of mourners at a wake” (Scott 1995: 81). Spanish lexicons listed alok, balbal, kakag, oko, onglo, and wakwak as synonyms of aswang. Today witches are believed to have a “carnivorous habit” (Arens 1971: 97) and prey on the sick, the dead, infants, and pregnant women (Arens 1971, Villegas 1968). Liver complaints are still attributed to the appetite of witches.

Villegas (1968: 227-230) notes that, in the coastal towns of the Waray in eastern Leyte, witches are evil persons with preternatural powers but are indistinguishable from others in the community. There, witches fall into three groups: tangso-tangso, nalakat, and managhilaw. The tangso-tangso is akin to the manananggal of the Tagalog in that the witch torso separates from the rest of the body and flies out to seek a victim. The nalakat, on the other hand, “has to walk to where its victim is…and has the power to transform itself into any animal it chooses,” while the managhilaw “attacks even people in the best of health and sucks their blood” in contrast to that of the other types of witches who prey only on the sick (Villegas 1968: 227).

Aside from this predatory behavior, witches are also believed to metamorphose from a normal person during daytime into a witch at night. During nighttime, they are believed to have reddish eyes that become sharp and penetrating, allowing them to see into the womb of a pregnant mother. Witches have razor-sharp teeth and long, pointed fingernails. The hair is purportedly brittle, straight, and spreading while the body is thin and slippery so as to be able to fly or crawl through the smallest opening. Saliva drools from the mouth. They have keen hearing, sight, and smell (Arens 1971, Villegas 1968).

One of Arens’s informants remarked that witches have existed since “time immemorial” (Arens 1971: 95). Arens suggested that the first witches were “cave spirits,” for in one of his interviews, he learned that people believe one “automatically” becomes a witch if he or she “finds a bottle with an inverted plant” inside a cave during Lent. But if a person finds a bottle with a plant positioned in a natural way, with its roots at the bottom of the bottle and the leaves at the top, then that person will become a good tambalan (traditional healer).

Lieban (1960: 128) stressed that Cebuano witchcraft can be transmitted either through heredity or transference. Among the Waray, a “germ” or kagaw of witchhood can supposedly be transferred to another through cold food, physical contact, or by blowing on another person’s alimpoporo (crown of the head) (Villegas 1968). The “monster” in the witch’s stomach can relocate to another person’s body if that person is present at the witch’s deathbed (Arens 1971).

Arens and Villegas noted that in Waray culture the process of becoming a witch goes through stages. At first, the kagaw or “germ” incubates in the newly bewitched person’s stomach. The witch-apprentice begins to feel a pain in the kapoy-kapoy or sorok-sorok (diaphragm). A thick mass of blood develops which gradually assumes the appearance of a pikoy (parrot). In a month, the victim then develops an appetite for raw chicken. The witch teaches the victim how to fly and search for prospective prey. Once the witch-apprentice learns all the necessary knowledge, the process cannot be reversed.

The ethnographic accounts suggest that witches are considered to be malignantly evil. Lieban (1967) noted that the supernatural powers of witches are considered to be “rooted in the individual, a constitutional resource” in contrast to sorcerers whose “powers” are taken from “resources outside of the individual,” such as magical procedures and spirit guides. He writes:

Reaction to someone believed to be an aswang is apt to be more intense and hostile due to the extremely aberrant characteristics ascribed to this type of witch, and the fact that the aswang is more likely to be conceived as inherently evil…(Lieban 1967: 75).

The aswang resembles some witches elsewhere whose behavior in certain respects antithesizes or inverts normal behavior in the societies where they are found (Lieban 1967: 77).

Violent death is not the monopoly of warfare. Other causal dimensions of violent death are found in historic accounts. Persecution of suspected witches has been documented as a cause for violent death in many societies. For the Philippines, Anima noted that “witchcraft…has a long, continuous history of persecution for its practitioners…. Witch-suspects were often subjected to drowning tests to determine the validity of the witch-hunter’s suspicions” (Anima 1978: 2).

One lynching incident in Carigara, Leyte, as recounted by Ramos, illustrates one community reaction to those suspected of witchcraft.

Han olitawo pa ako may-ada wakwak didto ha Cogon an ngaran he Mara. Damo an nasering nga hi Mara in para wakwak han mga bag-o nga anakan didto hadto nga lugar. Usa ka adlaw may ada bag-o nga anakan nga namatay kay guin wakwak kono ni Mara. Guinhigot ha barsa ngan iguin pasaog han carabao hasta nga namatay. An mga taga baryo diri na kontento salet era guin labay ngadto ha lunayan han kabao…

When I was still single there was a wakwak in Cogon whose name was Mara. Many said that Mara was the cause of the death of many mothers who had newly given birth there. One day a mother had been wakwaked by Mara (her blood sucked out). The barrio folks went to the house of Mara and tied him and mounted his body on [or behind?] a sled and had a carabao pull him over rocky ground. The barrio people were not yet content so they dumped him into the mud where the carabaos wallowed… (Ramos 1971: 56-57).

Another incident was recorded by Lieban (1960: 133) where violence was perpetrated against those suspected of sorcery. He said that “a man suspected of sorcery was shot at in a community near Sibulan” and, in the course of his study, a newspaper reported that a “woman suspected of performing sorcery had been killed and her husband and children injured when men threw a homemade explosive into her house because she was believed to have caused the illness of a son of one of the men.”

Recently, another news item appeared in the Visayan Daily Star (Gomez 2003) that recounted the beheading of a married elderly couple in Sitio Si-alay, barangay Bulata, Cauayan town in Negros Occidental. The perpetrators (three members of the same community) believed that the couple were aswang. As one of the men beheaded the female witch-suspect, he purportedly saw the severed body “stand up before falling down.” He then rushed to the couple’s kitchen to get some ashes and rubbed the ashes and some salt on the stump of her severed head to “prevent it from reconnecting with the body.” The men then hacked the other witch-suspect (i.e., the husband) and proceeded to sever the head from the body. They planned to bury the heads in a nearby river to prevent them from rejoining the bodies. Interestingly, the perpetrators believed that “they did the right thing and saved the lives of others. That is why they did not attempt to flee from their barangay.”
Arens’s informants noted that “aswangs…do not live long because all the people are after their necks.” Some of the aswangs have been “killed and the rest moved away to far-away places where they are not known.” To kill a witch, one should chant certain prayers and stab the witch in the back with a sharpened length of bamboo. Arens was told that the aswang has to be slashed into pieces. If the witch transforms itself into an animal, the animal should be severed into two and the two halves placed in the distant opposite reaches of a river (Arens 1971: 101-102).

Scott wrote, if Visayans “became convinced that a death had been caused by one of their townmates who was such a creature, he or she was put to death – along with their whole families if the victim had been a datu” (emphasis mine). The stark fear of witches was also manifested in the burial of the datu after which a “slave called dayo was stationed at a datu’s tomb for the rest of his life to guard against robbers or aswang, with the right to feed himself off anybody’s field” (Scott 1995: 90-91).

In the Visayas, it has been shown that the power of witches reside within the individual and not outside, say for example in another supernatural being. Although “witchhood” may have originated from the “cave spirits,” it is thought to be transmitted usually along kinship lines—the “germs” or kagaw being contagious. Scott, in his rendition of contact period Visayan culture, pointed out the possibility that families of suspected witches were put to death together with the witch-suspect. Moreover, an aswang could not simply be killed with bare hands but certain weapons ascribed with special powers had to be used, usually metal knives or bamboo spikes. In contemporary Cebuano culture, the aswang motif is not simply an individual “affliction” but rather a family trait. In other words, the community generally views witchcraft as transmittable along kinship lines (among kaliwat sa aswang, roughly translated as “clan of witches”). For example, Arens (1971: 103), to account for how contemporary witches are treated, noted that:

The life of a suspected witch and her [or his] family is made difficult by the constant suspicion of the people. The “witch” is shunned and sometimes publicly embarrassed. Food and delicacies sent from her kitchen out of hospitality are thrown away or fed to the dogs. Endless gossip circulates about horrible and inhuman ways such as feasting on a dead man’s body which some will claim to have seen her doing the night before. The family members are the targets of many sarcastic and cutting remarks. The pretty daughters stay unmarried because young gentlemen are afraid to marry them.

In Philippine folklore, the aswang is capable of returning from the dead with a vengeance (Ramos 1971). It can be warded off only by using sacralized objects and incantations (Villegas 1968, Scheans and Hutterer 1970, Arens 1971).

Given the very malevolent image of witches in the Visayan mind, witches probably even during the pre-Spanish period were victims of persecution. They very likely suffered social derision and worse – their persecution may have led to mass killings.

As presented above, witchcraft persecution is found in historical as well as ethnographic accounts in the Visayas. There is therefore a compelling reason to reassess Junker’s interpretation of the Tanjay mass grave in view of the ambiguity of the causality of violent death in the archaeological record of protohistoric times–especially with Scott’s discovery of the Visayan practice of the massacre of witch-suspects’ families.

Hugo Chavez and the Skeleton of Bolivar

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela ordered the exhumation of the remains of Simon Bolivar, Latin America’s liberator, in order to put an end to the speculation surrounding the hero’s death. While historians are generally in agreement that Bolivar died of tuberculosis in 1830, others maintained that the hero died of unintentional arsenic poisoning (since this was the standard medical treatment during his time).

Dr. Paul Auwaerter in a University of Maryland Conference argued that  death due to tuberculosis cannot explain Bolivar’s final six months. Auwaerter said that the hero did not exhibit symptoms of TB and may have had arsenic-induced bacterial infection. Dr. Auwaerter concluded that Bolivar “died of chronic arsenic poisoning that led to a serious respiratory illness…and most of the signs and symptoms point to slow, chronic poisoning, the kind that might result from drinking contaminated water.”

Chavez however is convinced that Bolivar might have been murdered, a suspicion bolstered by the many attempts on the life of the most illustrious Latin American military figure. One of the failed assassination plots was in September 1828, a month after Bolivar installed himself dictator of Gran Colombia (the short-lived republic that encompassed a great part of South and Central America). Bolivar narrowly escaped the attempt through the help of his lover, Manuela Saenz.

“They killed him. Here in my heart for years I’ve had the conviction that Bolivar didn’t die of tuberculosis,” Chavez said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to prove it, but I think they assassinated Bolivar.”

Death by Arsenic

The examination of chronic arsenic poisoning is a well-established method in paleopathology. The Paleopathology Laboratory of the Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, has studied the long-term exposure to arsenic of a Chilean pre-Columban population. The mummies showed arsenic lesions on their internal organs. The nails, ribs, hairs, and skin also exhibited high concentrations of the compound.

In a similar vein, Boston and Ariaza (2009) examined the human remains of the Chinchorro Culture (5000 BP) in the Atacama desert coast of Chile, they suggested that the endemic presence of arsenic may have had a role in the mummification practice of the Chinchorros. To ascertain this, they examined teratogenic arsenic lesions (i.e., cleft palate, polydactyly, syndactyly, spina bifida, club foot, eye malformations, and hip joint dislocation), which are indicative of arsenic poisoning when found together. Although they only found spina bifida, they reported that the “presence of spina bifida in the three valleys suggests a genetic-environmental interplay within the populations.”

I imagine Auwaeter et al conducted a similar assessment to forward the arsenic poisoning hypothesis. Next step is the Hugo Chavez-commissioned DNA testing on Bolivar’s exhumed remains. This is the same procedure that put an end to the controversy surrounding Napoleon Bonaparte’s death. Bonaparte, once thought to have been poisoned by his prison guards, was found to have died of other causes (still up in debate) and not from arsenic poisoning.

Bolivar’s Skeleton

That the exhumation is ideologically-driven is not a secret. Chavez refers to his ideology as Bolivarianismo which advocates for participatory democracy, socialism, and Latin American unity. This is also a homage to the military figure who attempted to unite the entire Latin America against Spanish colonization. It comes as no surprise therefore to see Chavez beaming with pride when Simon Bolivar’s remains were exposed. He exclaimed, “Viva Bolivar! It’s not a skeleton. It’s the Great Bolivar, who has returned…Our father who is in the earth, the water and the air … You awake every hundred years when the people awaken. I confess that we have cried, we have sworn allegiance.”

This was not the first time however that leaders used the past to serve the political purposes of the present. Anthropology, archaeology in particular, is rife with examples that exploit the past for a nationalist project. The eminent archaeologist, Bruce Trigger, noted that “Political unrest, national crises, and rapid economic and social change frequently stimulate interests in a nation’s past, which often is romantically represented as having been more stable than the present and therefore as having more valuable lessons to teach the modern times.”

This is especially true in many places with strong nationalist movements. Archaeologists in Nazi Germany, for example, conducted excavations to prove that Germany was the origin of all civilizations. In the years of Mao Zedong’s rule in China, archaeology was encouraged as long as it supports the government’s theory of a linear evolutionary progression from “primitive promiscuous bands via matrilinearity to patrilinearity; from Savagery, Barbarism, Feudal Society to Civilization and so on–stages first proposed by Lewis Henry Morgan, borrowed by Engels, and systematized in the Soviet Union” (Glover, 2006).

The case of Bolivar’s exhumation is thus not an exemption. The team of Spanish and Venezuelan scientists’ study results might be scientifically neutral and valid in the end. They might even contradict Chavez. But that is not the point. Bolivar’s bones are not just a bunch of arsenic-drenched tissues. This is not just about Bolivar anymore.

A Visit to a Taino Archaeological Park

We went on an hour and a half drive to the Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park in Utuado, located in the central cordilleras of Puerto Rico. The place is considered as the most important Taino Culture archaeological site in the Caribbean.

The Tainos, pre-Columban settlers of the Greater Antilles, were seafarers and farmers who had an elaborate culture centered on the worship of gods, spirits, and ancestors called cemis.  The primary god, Yucahu, is the god of agriculture, cassava (staple food of the Tainos), and the seas. This deity is believed to reside in the mountains of El Yunque, a dense rainforest region in Puerto Rico. Yucahu’s evil brother, Huracan, is responsible for worldly calamities, such as earthquakes, storms, and, yes, hurricanes (etymology comes from Huracan).

Where are the Tainos?

The strategic importance of Puerto Rico to colonial Spain however led to the decimation of the native Taino population in the 18th century. Spanish-introduced diseases, colonial subjugation, slavery, and forced assimilation into the colonial plantation economy were the major  historical forces that led to the extinction of this indigenous group. Here’s a retelling of the Taino demise:

They committed group suicide as an escape, but it was mainly disease that decimated the Taínos so quickly. In 1516, only eight years later, there were so few Taínos left in the Caribbean that Father Bartolomé de las Casas won a “crown order” to free the Indians. In 1527, a small pox epidemic in Puerto Rico killed one third of the remaining Taíno population. In 1542, a Bishop was sent to Puerto Rico to inform the Indians of their “new” complete freedom.

Others however belie the extinction story, saying that the Tainos thrived in secrecy especially in the mountainous regions of Puerto Rico. Dr. Lynne Guitar added that it may also be due to historical inaccuracies that led to the perpetuation of the “myth of Taino extinction”:

If a Spaniard and a Taína had a child who was raised in the city or a European-style town, spoke Castillian, was baptized Catholic, wore European clothes, received a European education, and “acted” Spanish—then he or she was listed as Spanish on the censuses.  If that same child lived in a yucayeque (Taíno village), spoke Taíno, practiced Taíno religious rituals, dressed as a Taíno, and acted Taíno, then he or she was listed on the censuses as Indian.  That’s confusing for modern scholars, but it was also confusing for the colonial-era census takers, who had to try to figure out how to categorize people when there were, as yet, no fixed standards.

The ball courts and the batey

Whether the Tainos survived colonization or not, the Caguana ceremonial place is an important archaeological site that allows us a glimpse into the world of the Tainos. The site is built around 1270 A.D., featuring 10 plazas of various sizes and 21 petroglyphs. Archaeologists said that this had been continuously occupied for more than 300 years up until around the start of the Spanish colonization. The central plazas were outlined with river stones and rocks–each rock carved with petroglyphs of cemis (i.e., Taino deities). The plazas were used for areitos (ceremonial dances) and a ball game called batey. It was in this similar plaza that a Taino cacique, Agueybana II, plotted to overthrow the Spanish conquistadores in 1511.

Spanish friars chronicled that the batey was played by two opposing teams using a rubber ball. Neck and elbow collars made from stone were also used by the players as a yoke (i.e. inferred from a similar ball court practice in Mesoamerica).

Game revivalists believe that each opposing team is composed of 12 players, each with a goalie that attempts to stop the ball from going to her/his team’s side. Like football, the ball or the batu cannot be touched by the hand but can be struck by the foot, hip, thigh, or any part of the body. The ball can also be bounced around the stone walls of the ball court. Although the game has recreational value, experts believe that the batey has an underlying religious and judicial significance as evidenced by the petroglyphs circling the ballcourt and its associated artifacts.

As we were about to leave the park, we surveyed the ceremonial site for the last time. With a 3-year old child in tow, we scanned the landscape trying to remember every bit of the place. The reconstructed Taino abode, the bohio, stands on the ceremonial place’s landscape. The expanse of the valley is encircled by karst hills of lush rainforest and giant ferns. In this small valley rests the rectangular ball courts of the Tainos.  Here, on this very earth, the Tainos tread the ground, breathed the same air, mystified by the unseen forces of nature, and probably hoped too for a better future for their children.

Fig. 1. Mujer de Caguana. This petroglyph is believed to be a fertility figure or an ancestor-figure from a powerful family.

Fig. 2. A Cemi. Representation of a Taino Deity.

Fig.3. Stone Rings. Once thought to be associated with the ball game, they are now considered as of unknown use. Some scholars speculate that they were distinctive symbols of clans.

Fig. 4. Elbow Stone. Its scarcity in archaeological sites indicate that this might have been used in ritual contexts.

Other photos of the visit: us, ball courts, monoliths, petroglyphs, etc.

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Where are the Potsherds? The Kids Got Them.

ResearchBlogging.orgMichael Schiffer emphasized the importance of the study of formation processes to better understand people-object interactions through time. In his book, natural and cultural processes (n-transforms and c-transforms as he called them) should be understood if we were to interpret the archaeological record.

The natural processes (or n-transforms) include weathering, erosion, natural disasters, chemical and biotic agents which structures the archaeological deposit. These natural processes need to be understood well because this has a bearing on the state of the archaeological record. For example, Schiffer mentioned that warmer and humid temperatures are conducive to bacterial and fungi growth, thus making certain artifacts in these contexts disintegrate faster.

C-transforms are transformations in the archaeological record brought about by human action. Examples of c-transforms are the following: discarding, recycling, heirlooms, and deliberate and accidental destruction. Some archaeologists, like William Walker, studied ceremonial trash to follow the material remains of religious behavior, suggesting that votive artifacts go through a different life history.

For this blogpost, I will be showing pictures of a children’s game that could perhaps be the reason why potsherds are seldom seen in some sites (OK, potsherds are the most visible of all artifacts. But please bear with me and hear my story on how kids may have reduced potsherd frequency in the archaeological record). I played this game as a kid with other children from the neighborhood (and so did my parents, grandparents, and perhaps several generations before). Until now, this nail-shining game is still played in some parts of my town.

The game starts with the collection of potsherds from the field. Usually, redder potsherds are preferred more because of the orange tinge it leaves on the nails. These sherds are then grounded to fine dust by pounding with a heavier rock. The small pile of finely grounded earth are then rubbed on the nails until it leaves a distinctive shine. This game can go on and on for several months in various households in Leyte. So, the next time Philippine archaeologists ask where the potsherds are, tell them the kids got to them first.

Below are photos of my cousins’ children playing the same game we played as kids:

Step 1. It starts with a broken pot and nail-conscious kids.

2. Pounding the Potsherd to Pieces

3. More pounding

4. Grinding to get the fine earth (used for rubbing on the nails)

5. After the rubbing, nice shiny nails.

6. Look! Shiny Happy Nails!

Walker, W. (1995). Ceremonial Trash? In Expanding Archaeology, edited by J. Skibo, W.H.. Walker, and A.E. Nielsen, pp. 67–79.