Philippines: 1,000-year-old village unearthed

History has been revealed at the site of a future eco-tourism park in Quezon province, Philippines. Those interested in mixing up a bit of nature-oriented travel with a trip back in time may want to pencil in a visit to Mount Kamhantik for some time in the not-too-distant future.

What is thought to be an ancient village has been discovered near Mulanay town, a coastal city of 50,000 inhabitants. Fifteen plain box-like limestone coffins, remains of dwellings, bone fragments from humans, monkeys and other animals, metal objects and pieces of pottery have been found at the site, of which only a small part has so far been excavated. Carbon dating of a human tooth discovered at the site points to the possibility of the graves/settlement being at least 1,000 years old and a preliminary report by the National Museum of the Philippines states that it dates from the 10th-14th century. The moss-covered limestone coffins are a first, with previous discoveries from that era indicating that Filipinos buried their dead in wooden coffins in the north or earthen coffins and receptacles in other regions. These examples are in fact not separate structures, but boxes carved into the limestone rock of the mountain. This method has only been documented in two other parts of East Asia – Bali, Indonesia, and Taiwan. From the Telegraph:

The discovery of the rectangular tombs is of historical importance because it is the first indication that ancient Filipinos practised a more advanced burial ritual than experts previously thought. The discoveries also indicate that metal tools were used within the settlement to carve the coffins.

Ancient graves in the Philippines

Pic: Philippine National Museum

Mulanay is largely known for being a place where New People’s Army Marxist rebels fought government troops, but the city’s tourism officer has dreams of turning Mount Kamhantik into an eco-tourism hotspot and archeological destination. From the Associated Press:

The archaeological site is part of 280 hectares (692 acres) of forest land that was declared a government-protected area in 1998 to keep away treasure hunters and slash-and-burn farmers. Treasure hunters looking for gold exposed some of the limestone tombs years ago, but it was only last year that Manila-based archeologists were notified and started to unearth more graves and artifacts and began to understand the significance of the find.

What else was in the tombs?

According to archeologists working at the site, the tombs were discovered and raided (not by Lara Croft) some decades ago. Treasure hunters probably made off with some valuable artifacts in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. They know this from the markings left by the different cuff widths of the tomb raiders’ jeans during each decade. I’m kidding about that last bit. The leader of the archeological dig, Eusebio Dizon, explained that the treasure hunters would have stolen metal objects and whatever else they could sell and disposed of the human remains. Many such archeological sites in the Philippines have suffered damage due to treasure hunters or tomb raiders.

Pic: Mulanay tourism office

Read more about the findings in this AFP article. For those interested in visiting the area for eco-tourism purposes, Joselito Ojeda, the mayor of Mulanay describes the mountain in a New York Daily News article:

Despite the loss of thick tree covers in the 1,300-foot (396-meter) mountain’s foothills as villagers clear the jungle for homes and farms, the forested mountain still harbors a rich wildlife, including rare hornbills, wild cats and huge numbers of cave bats, including a white one recently seen by environmental officials. The mountaintop offers a scenic view of Tayabas Bay and the peak of Mayon volcano, famous for its near-perfect cone, Ojeda said.