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Where’s the gold?

/ 08:31 AM June 23, 2011

San Remigio—Call it plain ignorance and stupidity or these people were absent when the discussion on the pre-Spanish period was made by their teachers (or maybe their teachers also had no idea about it). But the archaeological excavations here have apparently whipped up interest of another kind: that we have found gold and are not showing it to the public.

Let me therefore spend this space enlightening all the ignoramuses out there who do not understand what the Philippine Iron Age is all about in the hope that this ignorance coupled with rumor-mongering will finally come to an end.


The Philippine Iron Age is generally thought by archaeologists to date from 500 BC to AD 900. It is marked by the introduction of iron as an important ingredient in the manufacture of jewelry (at first) and then tools (later). The first evidence of the use of iron in Southeast Asia was recovered in Thailand and dates to 700 BC so that Thailand’s own Iron Age begins at that period while ours comes 200 years later.

The period between AD 900 to AD 1565 is often called the Porcelain Age or the Age of Contact, when our ancestors began intensive trading with Chinese, Arab, Vietnamese and Thai seafaring merchants. It ends in 1565 because by then the Spaniards had begun taking over this trade and monopolizing the sale of Chinese and other Asian trade ware ceramics out from the ancient trade centers in many islands of the archipelago and centralize Manila for the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade.


Note that some archaeologists extend the Philippine Iron Age well into the Porcelain Age and call it the Late Iron Age. This is because, as in most societies, trading with the Chinese, Arabs and other Asians was not even all throughout the archipelago so that some settlements, especially those away from the coastal areas, were still deep in the Iron Age.

It was the Chinese and Arab merchants, who first arrived in Butuan, Pangasinan, Mindoro, and Sulu around the 10th to 11th centuries, when gold began to be appreciated by our ancestors — and by salivating looters in the 1970s and 1980s. These merchants, bringing with them goods from their own regions, were looking for items of exchange, showing our ancestors’ works of jewelry made of gold. Of course, Mindanao and many of our country’s rivers were awash with gold but before this time, no one apparently took notice of it. Or if they did, archaeologists have not found gold as funerary or burial object until after this period.

This explains why one cannot find gold in the Iron Age burials that we have recovered here: six by the USC team in March and another six by the joint team of USC, University of Guam and University of the Philippines-Diliman archaeologists.

So why this incessant ill-informed noise about all this gold supposed to be in our burials? Where were these people when the 12th-14th century burials full of ceramics and gold jewelry were being carted away here in San Remigio and elsewhere? Why did we not hear of these lamentations when Cebu’s coastal areas were raped and ravaged by antique traders and collectors 20 to 30 years ago? Or is this a case of belatedly guilty consciences?

Let me state with finality therefore for the official record what we have found here thus far: 12 burials in two excavation seasons; 22 magnificently beautiful earthenware jars of varying shapes, sizes and decoration; an intriguing high-fired decorative object or weapon; over 4,000 sherds (not shards as these refer to glass and we found no glass beads or objects made of glass); animal bones; and shells indicating the kind of food sources available then. All these point to a site that is between 1,000 and 2,000 years old—well within the Philippine Iron Age. The pottery alone here is reminiscent of the Manunggul Jar, which is roughly dated to AD 400.

The most important result of this dig is that this will be the first Iron Age site of its kind that will have a definite radiocarbon date and DNA material if plans push through to bring samples to the United States. Even the pottery will be properly sourced with the samples being taken for this purpose.

So, pray tell me, would a team of archaeologists spend nearly a million pesos on a dig or just use this money to buy all the gold it can and make fake 12th-century jewelry out of them to display in a museum and make us all famous? Surely, ignorance has its limits.


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TAGS: archaeology, History
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