Because of their geographical position between southern China and Melanesia, the Philippines have marked importance for many aspects of Oceanic prehistory. By Southeast Asian standards, they are fairly well-studied archaeologically, and this situation is partly due to a half-century of research carried out by Henry Otley Beyer (1883-1966), an American archaeologist.
Beyer showed in his studies that the early Batangueños had a special affinity with the precious stone known as the jade. He named the Late Paleolithic Period (old stone age, about 2.5 million years ago to about 9600 BC) of the Philippines as the Batangas Period in recognition of the multitude of jade found in the excavated caves in the province. In the Philippines, “hand-axes” are reported from Batangas Province in south-central Luzon as far back as the Upper Pleistocene Period (c. 150,000 to 10,000 years ago).
The Late Neolithic (new stone age, about 9000 BC to 3000 BC) and Metal Age Cultures in the Philippines as described by Beyer includes many items that are closely paralleled elsewhere in Southeast Asia. He believed that Polynesian adzes are to be derived from the Philippines. In addition, the Province of Batangas on Luzon has revealed so many tools of nephrite that Beyer believed that the so-called “jade-cult” of New Zealand was derived from here. The nephrite artifacts of Batangas offer a large and interesting range – needles and chisels, tanged spearheads, cylindrical and disc-shaped beads, perforated ax-like pendants similar to those from Tran Ninh in Laos, plain discs, bracelets, and lingling-o earrings. Some ornaments, such as bracelets and beads, are of shell, and glass beads, and bronze objects (socketed axes, arrowheads, and miniature bells) also occur in some of the Batangas sites.
Archaeological findings show that before the settlement of the Spaniards in the country, the Tagalogs, especially the Batangueños, had attained a semblance of high civilization. This was shown by certain jewelry, made from a chambered nautilus’ shell, where tiny holes were created by a drill-like tool.
India had a great influence in the ancient Batangueños as shown in the origin of most languages from Sanskrit and certain ancient potteries. A Buddhist image was reproduced in mold on a clay medallion in bas-relief from the municipality of Calatagan. According to experts, the image in the pot strongly resembles the iconographic portrayal of Buddha in Siam, India, and Nepal.
One of the major archaeological finds was in January 1941, where two crude stone figures were found in Palapat in the municipality of Calatagan. They were later donated to the National Museum but one of them was destroyed during World War II.
Eighteen years later, a grave was excavated in nearby Punta Buaya. Pieces of brain coral were carved behind the heads of the 12 remains that were found. The site was named Likha (meaning “Create”). The remains were accompanied by furniture that could be traced as early as the 14th century. Potteries, as well as bracelets, stoneware, and metal objects were also found in the area, suggesting that the people who lived there had extensive contact with people from as far as China.
The presence of dining utensils such as plates or “chalices” found with the remains also suggest that prehistoric Batangueños believed in the idea of life-after-death. Thus, the Batangueños, like their neighbors in other parts of Asia, have similar customs of burying furniture with the dead.
Some of the oldest ancestors of Tagalog culture can be linked to Batangas Province. Archeologists have traced evidence of human habitation around the southwestern coastline of Balayan Bay, to 250,000 years ago.
Legend holds that during the 13th century, two or three of the 10 Bornean datus who migrated to Panay pushed farther north to Balayan Bay. They made their way up the Pansipit River, a major waterway, to the fertile south shores of Taal Lake, where they settled with their families and slaves and subsequently gained control of an extensive part of Luzon and Mindoro. Batangas, first known as Bonbon, attracted Chinese, Arab, and Indian merchants. The province had been trading with the Chinese since Yuan Dynasty until the first phase of Ming Dynasty in the 13th and 15th century. Inhabitants of the province were also trading with Japan and India.
Before the Spanish arrived, the coastal population was already substantial and included numerous Muslims. Archaeological excavations at Calatagan and Lemery have revealed evidence of a thriving stratified society.
- Man’s Conquest of the Pacific by Peter Bellwood
- Insight Guide Philippines by Discovery Channel
- Philippine Handbook by Carl Parkes