One of the largest islands in the Philippine archipelago, Palawan is steep in history and heritage – with historians and archeologists tracing it up to tens of thousands years ago.
Called as the “Cradle of Philippine Civilization”, the history of Palawan is recorded through fossils and artifacts used by early human dwellers in the early part of the Holocene. Physical anthropologists examined the bones (a skullcap) found in Tabon cave and determined it to be about 47,000 years old.
Alongside the bones, other artifacts found were stone flake tools and waste core flakes used in hunting or cooking.
The Tabon Cave Complex, where the remains were found, is a series of caves situated at Lipuun Point in Southwestern Palawan. It covers around 138 hectares and now converted as a mangrove forest connected to the mainland Palawan.
Photos (Tabon SkullCap and Mandible, and Tabon Cave Excavation Site) from Noypi Collections
The fossils were discovered by a team led by Dr. Robert Fox, hailed as the “Father of Philippine Archaeology”. He started the exploration and the excavations of the Tabon Caves in the 1960s.
There are studies that purport that the island of Palawan is once part of Sundaland – a biogeographical region of Southeastern Asia that was exposed during the last glacial period of Pleistocene. With elevating ocean levels, Palawan was separated to mainland Asia. This conclusion was based on the similarity of flora and fauna found in the island to the rest of Southeast Asia as compared to the rest of the Philippines.
The rising sea levels by the end of the Glacial age led to the abandonment of the Tabon caves by pre-historic settlers.
Before the Spanish conquest, the island of Palawan has a thriving community with their own non-formal system of government, an alphabet, and known to conduct trade with foreign sea-borne merchants. According to some historians, the name “Palawan” was derived from Chinese word ‘Pa-Lao-Yu” meaning “the Land of Beautiful Harbors”.
Some of the artifacts from this period includes the famous Manunggul Jar – a burial jar proving the wide belief that early Filipinos believed in life after death.
Early Filipinos believed that a man is composed of a physical body, a life force called as “ginhawa”, and a “kaluluwa” or soul. This is the reason why the jar cover features three faces – the soul, the boatman, and the boat itself.
The two human figures, both riding the boat, represent a journey to the afterlife. The boatman steers the boat while the second human figure is at the front with arms crossed on his chest – a common arrangement of the corpse during burial.
The find is an important link in studying the spiritual evolution of the early Filipinos before the introduction of Christianity.
The inside of the jar contains human bones which are covered in red paint and adorned with golden bracelets.