Trade, Technologies and Traditions: The Analysis of Materials Recovered from the Metal Age Burial Site in Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Central Philippines


In August 1998 a Metal Age burial site was discovered during a construction project in District Ubujan, Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Central Philippines (See Map 1). The site was destroyed but many of the artifacts were recovered and donated to the provincial museum in Tagbilaran City. This included over 1800 earthenware sherds, 78 earthenware vessels, 130 glass beads, 31 fragments of iron tools, 96 human teeth, and a few glass bracelets and shell and stone artifacts.

In 2000, an extensive analysis was undertaken of these artifacts. This analysis has provided important information on early trade, technology and traditions in the region. It has revealed that Bohol was an active participant in a regional network of maritime trade during the Metal Age. Numerous foreign goods reached the island including iron tools and glass beads. There was also an active trade in locally or regionally produced Sa-Huyhn Kalanay earthenwares. Furthermore, an analysis of the quantity, quality and variety of grave goods, as well as the type of internment, suggests an overall trend towards variation and elaboration of burial traditions. These results correlate with finding from other Metal Age sites in the Philippines and will provide important data for future comparative studies.

Following is a summary of the analysis which includes: a description of the site; the methodologies used in this analysis; the results of the analysis; and some of the preliminary conclusions.


Bohol is the 10th largest island in the Philippines with a landmass of approximately 4117 sq. km. It is located in the southern part of the Visayan group of islands, with the island of Cebu to the northwest, Leyte to the northeast, and Mindanao to the south (See Map 2). Geologically, much of the island is dominated by limestone, and the southern coastline is fringed by extensive coral reefs and mangroves. The terrain varies significantly with broad valleys and low rolling hills in the north, and more pronounced mountainous terrain dissected by deep gulleys and gorges in the south.

The burial site was located in a small rock shelter on the southwestern coast of Bohol in the Sitio of Kabisi, District of Ubujan, Tagbilaran City (See Map 3). This region contains extensive underground caverns, and an irregular coastline with steep, rocky cliffs. The rock shelter was situated adjacent to the coastline at an elevation of approximately 5 meters above sea-level.

The burial site was discovered in August 1998 during a construction project on the private property of Mr. & Mrs. Günter Gutknecht. The site was unearthed by laborers hired to construct a swimming pool at their private residence. Unaware of its significance, most of the site was destroyed by the laborers before the property owner was able to halt construction. As a result, the stratigraphy and context of the burial and artifacts were not recorded, but many of the artifacts were recovered and subsequently donated to the local museum where they are currently on display and stored.


The analysis of the artifacts took place over a three-month period at the Bohol Museum in Tagbilaran City. A detailed inventory was taken of all the recovered artifacts. The majority of the collection consisted of low-fired earthenware sherds. Many of these sherds were large in size and showed fresh breaks as if the vessels were broken during removal from the burial; as a result, some vessels were able to be partially or almost fully reconstructed to their original form. The remaining earthenware sherds were counted, measured, weighed and classified based on stylistic and technological attributes such as sherd type, form, color and firing characteristics. Descriptive-stylistic attributes were based on traits defined by Solheim (1964) and expanded upon by Flavel (1997). Technological attributes were based primarily on classifications developed by Junker (1982).

The 130 glass beads were measured and classified by color, size, form and technology. The form and technological classifications were based on typologies developed by Santiago and Francis (Francis 1989a, 1989b, 1990a, 1990b). The metal tools were classified solely by form. Classifications were based on indigenous tool types, i.e., contemporary local tool forms. Due to the small quantity of shell and stone artifacts, no typological classifications were undertaken on these materials. Some basic data were also collected on the recovered human teeth.

In addition, one of the laborers who unearthed the burial(s) was interviewed to obtain some descriptive information on the stratigraphy and placement of the artifacts in relation to the skeletal remains at the site.

Finally, a comparative approach was used to understand the significance of the artifacts and site within a larger regional context. Published and unpublished research and site reports were reviewed, and numerous museum collections were cross-referenced.


The inventory of artifacts indicates that the site dates to the Metal Age (400 BC - AD 900). The earthenware forms and styles, as well as the glass beads, bracelets and iron tools are all contemporary to items recovered from other Metal Age sites in the region. Additionally, it lacks any evidence of stonewares or porcelains, which if present, would indicate that the site dates to a later age.

The laborer who was interviewed provided valuable information on the layout of the site. According to him, the human burial was discovered at a depth of about 1 meter and the skeletal remains were surrounded by earthenware pots, glass beads, metal tools, and human teeth. These artifacts appeared to be placed in specific groups. For example, the iron tools were grouped near the feet, most of the pots were located at the right side of the body, and the footed vessels were located above the head. Somewhat deeper, at what may have been another cultural level, a few additional artifacts were recovered, including a few more earthenware vessels, glass beads and human teeth. This suggests that most of the artifacts were contemporary, but some may have dated to a slightly earlier period.

Due to the destruction of the site, it is not clear how many burials were represented, but we know that there was at least one extended burial and probably some associated jar burials. This interpretation is based on the recovery of the skeleton of an adult as well as human teeth from individuals as young as 3-4 years old up to adult. Some of the jars were probably used for burials, as secondary jar burials were a common practice in this region at the time, and teeth were commonly interred as part of this ritual.

Similar artifact types are found in other Metal Age burial sites throughout the Philippines, most notably, similar pottery forms and styles. These common elements include round-bottomed pots with carinations (angles), and bowls on ring feet or pedestals, often with cut-outs and perforations. The lips of vessels are also sometimes scalloped or notched. These are all stylistic and decorative elements of the Sa-Huynh Kalanay pottery tradition. Elements of this tradition are also noted throughout many areas of Island Southeast Asia suggesting that there was a widespread pottery industry and trade network at the time. A preliminary petrographic analysis of a small sample of the recovered sherds further confirms this interpretation. It appears as if a wide variety of clay sources were being utilized, originating from different geographic sources. A more detailed petrographic analysis may be able to help identify more precisely the geological origin of the clay sources and/or origin of the pots.

Several unique vessels were noted which may indicate a local tradition or the work of an individual potter. One was a small flat-bottomed, narrowed-mouth jarlet, approximately 10 cm high, and with a mouth diameter of 2.1 cm. There were also two quadrapods (four-legged vessels), which are only documented from one other site in the Philippines, the Kalanay site in Masbate (Solheim 1964). Quadrapods have also been sporadically noted at other Southeast Asia sites, e.g., in Sulawesi (Callenfels 1951).

Some other important artifacts at the site included iron tools, glass beads and two fragments of glass bracelets. The beads were all monochrome, predominately red and yellow. They were manufactured using two different technologies; some were wound and some were drawn. Drawn beads are generally identified as being manufactured in the Indo-Pacific region, while wound beads are usually identified as Chinese (Francis 1990a, 1990b). One bead that stood out in the collection was a 14-sided opaque orange glass bead, 10 millimeters in diameter. It may have been modeled after the more common faceted carnelian beads from India. Similar glass beads have been noted in other areas of Southeast Asia, such as the site Oc-Eo in Vietnam (Malleret 1951), but overall, they are relatively rare.

The glass bracelet fragments are triangular in cross-section. One fragment is an opaque orange glass, and the other an opaque brick-red. Similar bracelet forms are known from Cambodia, Vietnam and Taiwan. The metal tools were made of iron, and included forms that resembled knives, daggers, chisels and bolos.

In summary, the inventory of artifacts included 78 earthenware vessels, over 1800 sherds, 130 glass beads, 31 iron implements, 96 human teeth, 2 fragments of glass bracelets, a few shell and stone artifacts, and some fragmented osteological remains.


The data collected from Ubujan help fill in some existing gaps in our understanding of the prehistory of Bohol and the Philippines. More specifically, they provide important information on the region's economic, social and cultural traditions during the Metal Age.

The beginning of the Metal Age is generally dated to 400 BC in the Philippines. This period is characterized by the island's expanding participation in the region's maritime economy. This maritime trade brought many new and desirable goods, such as metal tools and glass beads, as well as an expansion of markets for local products. Inevitably, it also introduced new "ideas", such as new technologies and possibly new ideologies, and cultural beliefs.

Archaeological research and ethnohistoric sources have documented politically complex and socially stratified chiefdom societies throughout various regions of the Philippines during the succeeding Protohistoric Period (AD 900 - 1521) (Junker 1992, 1994; Bacus 1996; Nishimura 1988). These societies were dispersed throughout both the lowlands and highlands and relied on regular inter-community trade to secure basic resources as well as foreign, luxury goods. The development of chiefdom societies in the Philippines is believed to have considerable time depth, with the first evidence of considerable wealth differentiation dating back to the Late Neolithic and Early Metal Age, or approximately 1000 BC - AD 500 (Solheim 1981; Fox 1979). It is hypothesized that the expansion of maritime trade was one of the key elements fueling the reorganization of society during this period (Solheim 1981:60). As towns developed along key coastal and riverine points, internal trade within the country also developed for the distribution of imported goods (Solheim 1981:59). Furthermore, chiefs used their ability to accumulate wealth as a source of political power, e.g. through ritual feasting, bridewealth payments, and control of exchange. Junker (2000) points out that intensified foreign trade appears to correspond chronologically with the emergence of more organizationally complex and territorially expansive chiefdoms in some regions of the Philippines, particularly those polities that were favorably situated for control of this wealth-generating trade (Junker 2000:4).

This research demonstrates that Bohol was no exception. Goods recovered from the burial confirm that early Boholanos participated in early inter-island trade, and shared a similar historical trajectory with neighboring islands. Many similarities in artifact types and styles, and burial traditions, are noted between Bohol and the islands of Cebu, Negros, Masbate and Mindanao. For example, there are striking similarities between the burial site of Magsuhot on the neighboring island of Negros, and Ubujan. Like Ubujan, the Magsuhot burial dates to the first millennium AD, and was an extended burial containing a large quantity of earthenwares and other burial goods. Many of the artifact types and forms are practically identical to those recovered in Ubujan; however, each site had some very unique artifacts as well. Similar artifacts are also recovered from sites as far away as Vietnam and Indonesia, also dating to the first millennium AD. Future research should help clarify the significance and/or relationship of these artifact types throughout the region.

It is only logical to assume that if goods were being acquired, then goods were also being traded. The large quantity and variety of earthenware types recovered at Ubujan, combined with the fact that good clay sources are readily available on the island, suggests that early Boholano's were producing earthenware pots for local use and trade during prehistoric times.

Even today, there are several towns that produce traditional open-air fired pottery which is sold or bartered at local markets, and ethnographic and oral sources note extensive trade in pottery in the Visayan region into the early 20th century. Other early trade items probably included food and forest products and other perishable goods. Sixteenth century Spanish explorers reported extensive sea trade in fish, coconuts, coconut oil, rice, tubers, yams, wax, goat meat, honey, palm sugar, fruits, nuts and vegetables (Scott 1994), and a few traditional crafts and goods that are still produced and traded today include basketry, rope, and salt.

This research has taken a long-term comparative approach to understanding the development of the early sociopolitical economy of the Philippines, focusing on the development of trade, technologies and traditions in the Visayan region. More detailed and in-depth research in this region should help clarify the individual nature of these centers and the complex trade relationships that existed among them.


Funding for this research was provided by a Fulbright Scholarship in 1999-2000 and the Kiana Dressendorf Scholarship in 2001. Institutional support was graciously provided by the Philippine-American Educational Foundation, the National Museum of the Philippines, and the Archaeological Studies Program of the University of the Philippines.

I would like to extend a special thanks to Mr. Wilfredo Ronquillo, Director of the National Museum, Dr. Eusebio Dizon, Director of the Archaeological Studies Program, U.P., and Dr. Wilhelm Solheim II, professor at the Archaeological Studies Program, U.P. Each of these individuals provided me generous assistance and guidance with this research.

I would also like to gratefully acknowledge the Bohol Museum and the Bohol Provincial Library, Tagbilaran City, Bohol, for allowing me to carry out my field research at their facilities. A few individuals who made this possible were Mrs. Salome D. Ramos, the former Provincial Librarian and head of the Provincial Museum, Mrs. Leonora "Baby" Rama, Assistant Curator of the Provincial Museum, and Father Ted Milan Torralba of the Bishop's Palace, Tagbilaran City.

I am also grateful to Mr. & Mrs. Gutknecht, the owners of the property who donated the artifacts to the museum for my research and Dr. Gary W. Pahl, my thesis advisor at San Francisco State University. Lastly, a special thank you is extended to my research assistant in Bohol, Joselito Alipala, for his invaluable assistance, and to the people of Bohol, for their wonderful hospitality!


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Callenfels, P.V. van Stein. 1951. Prehistoric sites on the Karama River. Journal of East Asiatic Studies 1: 82-97.

Flavel, A. 1997. Sa-Huynh Kalanay Analysis of the Prehistoric Decorated Earthenware of South Sulawesi in an Island Southeast Asian Context. Unpublished M.A. Thesis, Center for Archaeology, University of Western Australia.

Fox, R. B. 1979. The Philippines during the first millennium B.C. In R.B. Smith and W.Watson (eds.), Early South East Asia: Essays in Archaeology, History and Historical Geography, pp. 227-241. New York: Oxford University Press.

Francis, P. 1990a. Glass beads in Asia Part I: Introduction. Asian Perspectives 28: 1-21.

Francis, P. 1990b. Glass beads in Asia Part II: Indo Pacific beads. Asian Perspectives 29:1-23.

Francis, P. 1989a. Beads and the Bead Trade in Southeast Asia. Contributions of the Center for Bead Research 4. Lake Placid: Center for Bead Research.

Francis, P. 1989b. The Type Collection of Beads from Archaeological Contexts in the Philippine National Museum. Contributions fo the Center for Bead Research 5. Lake Placid: Center for Bead Research.

Junker, L. 2002. Introduction: Southeast Asia. In Kathleen D. Morrison & Laura L. Junker (eds), Forager-Traders in South and Southeast Asia: Long-Term Histories, pp. 131-166. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Junker, L. 1982. Analysis of an earthenware sample from Southeastern Negros. In Karl L. Hutterer and William K. Macdonald (eds), Houses Built on Scattered Poles: Prehistory and Ecology in Negros Oriental, Philippines, pp. 265-302. Cebu City: University of San Carlos.

Malleret, L. 1959-63. L'Archéologie du Delta du Mekong. Paris: Ecole Française d'Extreme-Orient.

Nishimura, Masao. 1988. Long distance trade and the development of complex societies in the prehistory of the Central Philippines. Philippine Quarterly of Culture & Society 16(2): 107-157.

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Solheim, W. G. 1981. Philippine prehistory. In Casal et al. (eds), The Peoples and Arts of the Philippines, pp. 16-83. Los Angeles: Museum of Culture History, University of California, Los Angeles.

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Earthenwares made up the bulk of the recovered artifacts. The majority of these were small sherds, but there were also a limited number of vessels that were relatively intact in the collection or were able to be partially reconstructed to their original form. This allowed me to assess the range of body forms in the collection from which I created a typological classification based on vessel morphology. From a total of seventy-eight vessels, five distinct vessels types were noted, which were further divided into subcategories. A description of each of these is presented below as well as a breakdown of the percentage of each vessel type represented.

    • Round base and generally have short necks and everted rims. Ethnographically known as the kon, kolon or palayok, and is used for cooking. More elaborate forms have angles near the base of the pot and/or on the body. The base angles are often decorated with "scalloping" (a.k.a. "lenticular cut-outs") and "notching" designs. The angled ("carinated") forms are common throughout the Philippines during the late Neolithic and Metal Age, and the globular forms from the late Neolithic until the present.

    • FOOTED VESSELS - "Pedestaled Dishes/Bowls"
    • Shallow wide-rimmed dish or bowl sitting upon an elevated stand. Generally interpreted as being a kind of presentation dish. The stands often have round of triangular cut-outs or perforations. This is a common type of vessel found in burial sites throughout the Philippines during the Metal Age. However, the tetrapod form (four-legged vessel) has to date, only been found in the Visayan region.

        • With cut-outs/perforations
        • Without cut-outs/perforations
        • Legs with cut-outs
        • Solid circular legs
    • Shallow vessels with wide rims (the rim diameter is usually the maximum diameter of the vessel). Usually broader than is tall and has a straight or inverted rim. Appearance resembles a bowl, but from other archaeological examples, we know that this form was also used as a lid.

        • With decorations/handles
        • Without decorations/handles
        • With decorations/handles
        • Without decorations/handles
    • Narrowest point of the vessel is at the mouth, and the widest point is at the base. Only one vessel of this type was found at the Ubujan burial site, and the form is unique and unknown from other archaeological sites.

    • Only one vessel of this type is in the Ubujan collection, and its final form and function is undetermined.

Other attributes were also collected on the vessels and sherds. For example, decorative elements were also noted from both the vessels and sherds. This included incised, engraved and appliquéd elements such as engraved curvilinear scrolls and triangular motifs, incised "notching" on the angles and rims, fingernail impressions, punctate stamping and red slipping.

The technological analyses were primarily descriptive and limited to a small sample. For example, it was noted that almost all of the sherd's cores were incompletely oxidized and the surfaces had fire clouding which indicates that they were open-air fired. Many of the sherds also had paddle impressions on the interior sides suggesting possible continuity with contemporary methods of manufacture which involves either hand-molding or coiling the clay and then shaping it into form with a paddle and anvil and open-air firing the vessels. It was also noted that there was a wide range of tempering materials including shells, sands and mineralogical materials.

Only a small sample of the sherds appeared to have been kiln fired (probably representative of a single vessel) and have been identified as Fine Paste. Some of the distinguishing physical characteristics of FP ware include: 1) very fine, untempered paste; 2) very thin bodies, generally 3-4mm thick; 3) very smooth body texture; 4) generally a white or pale/light cream to peach uniform color; 5) vessel surface is often chalky or shows signs of exfoliation; 6) uniformity in form, firing and color suggests this ware was wheel-thrown and kiln fired (Miksic and Yap 1989-1990). This last point is significant because there is not any evidence of prehistoric kiln technology in the Philippines, therefore indicating that it was an imported ware.


Miksic, John H. and C.T. Yap. 1989-90. Fine-Bodied White Earthenwares of Southeast Asia: Some X-Ray Fluorescence Tests. Asian Perspectives v28(1): 45-60.


One hundred and thirty glass beads were recovered from Ubujan. A preliminary technological analysis indicated that the collection consisted of a mix of both Indo-Pacific drawn beads and Chinese coil beads. This mixing suggests one of several things. It may indicate that 1) the Chinese coil beads are from an early phase of Chinese bead production before large numbers of coil beads were circulating in the Pacific region; 2) the burial dates to the late first millennium or early second millennium AD when Chinese coil beads were just beginning to become popular in the islands; 3) that there were multiple burials represented at the site which date to different time periods; 4) the burial(s) date to the Protohistoric period and the Indo-Pacific beads were heirloom beads. This last supposition is unlikely due to the fact that the other artifacts recovered at the site date to the Metal Age with no evidence of other Protohistoric materials at the site.

The beads were categorized by their shape/type and color. There were five different bead types in the collection. They are categorized as follows:

Table of Bead Types

    • ANNULAR - doughnut shaped beads whose width is greater than its height. This is by far the most prevalent bead type recovered from Ubujan (124 out of 130 beads). Opaque red (64) and opaque yellow (46) glasses are the most numerous, but there are also a few opaque orange (3), opaque green (5), opaque blue (3) and translucent blue (3) annular beads of various sizes in the collection. All beads are monochrome, which is characteristic of the earliest glass beads in the Philippines. Some of the annular beads are "wound", suggesting a Chinese origin, while other are "drawn", suggesting an Indo-Pacific origin.

    • 14-FACETED - has fourteen symmetrical sides. There is only one bead of this type in the collection and research has revealed that this is the only 14-sided glass bead known to have been recovered in the Philippines. It's shape was probably fashioned after stone, faceted beads (e.g., carnelian) which are more commonly recovered in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia (Basa, Glover and Henderson, 1990).

    • SPHERICAL - round beads. There are only three (3) of this type, one orange, one green and one opaque blue, and they are relatively large in size, averaging about 1.5cm in diameter.

    • BARREL - diameter is widest at the center, and narrows towards the ends. There is only one barrel bead in the collection of this type and it is opaque red.

    • CYLINDRICAL - diameter is widest at the center, and narrows towards the ends. There is only one cylindrical bead in the collection and it is opaque red.

Indo-Pacific Coil Beads & Chinese Wound Beads

Manufacturing methods and chemical composition are important factors for determining the regional origins of specific types of glass beads. In Southeast Asia, the two most important technological bead types that are found in archaeological sites are drawn beads and coil beads. Drawn beads are made by drawing molten glass into long tubes which are then cut into short segments, perforated and finished. This method leaves visually identifiable striation marks which run parallel to the beads aperture. This method was traditionally used in the Indo-Pacific region. Early Indo-Pacific beads had other common characteristics such as their diameter rarely exceeded more than 5mm, and the beads existed in a limited range of colors which included opaque reddish-brown, orange, yellow, green and black; semi-translucent greens and blues; and translucent amber and violet (Francis 2002:19). Indo-Pacific beads have been found in sites over a far-reaching area extending from Ghana and South Africa, to China and South Korea and out to the Island of Bali over a period exceeding 2,000 years (Francis 2002:19-20)

Early Chinese beads were made using a coiling method. Coil beads are formed by coiling molten glass around a mandrel. Chinese coil beads tend to be smaller than Indo-Pacific beads, often measuring 3mm or less in diameter. Chinese beads also tend to have high levels of lead and barium in the chemical makeup of the glass (Francis 2002:58-59).


Francis, P. 2002. Asia's Maritime Bead Trade 300 B.C. to the Present. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.

Glass Bracelet Fragments

Glass bracelets are commonly found in Metal Age burial sites throughout Southeast Asia. They were known to have been produced in the late Sa Huynh period in Southern Vietnam and are therefore considered to be diagnostic of the Sa Huynh culture (Francis 1995). Glass bracelets were made to be both flat and triangular in cross-section. The triangular forms are fairly common in the Philippines, Eastern Cambodia and Southern Vietnam.


Francis, P. 1995. Beads in Vietnam- An Initial Report. The Margaretologist v8(2).

Metal Implements

A number of metal tools were recovered from Ubujan. These tools were classified by form and possible function. No compositional analyses were undertaken. Eight different tool types (forms) were identified which were based on contemporary indigenous tool forms. I have included ethnographic information on the common Visayan names and functional uses of each of these tool types, as this could be relevant to their prehistoric uses as well.

    • KNIFE - Known locally by the Spanish name "punyal". It is a single-sided blade, i.e., designed to be used for cutting on one side only, and has a pointed tip and a tang for hafting. Per Peralta (1977), this is one of the most common type of blades recovered from Late Metal Age sites, e.g., in Batangas, Masbate, Palawan, and Magsuhot.

    • CHISEL ("tigib") One end of the tool is flattened (e.g., for hammering) and is rectangular in cross section. There is only one tool of this type identified from the collection. Based on the form (thickening of the circumference from the flat end), it appears to be a chisel.

    • DAGGER ("bangkaw") - Blade is symmetrically balanced and base is triangular in shape and has a tang for hafting. Blade was primarily used on the pointed end.

    • DIAGONAL-EDGED BOLO ("bungay") - Blade is flat or slanted. Ethnographically, this blade type is used for tilling the soil or weeding.

    • ROUND-EDGED BOLO ("lugi") - Ethnographically, used for agriculture or commonly used for scraping the meat out of the coconut.

    • SQUARE-EDGED BOLO - Similar to the pang-gi but larger in size. Agricultural tool.

    • LARGE SQUARE-EDGED "BARA" - This is a large, heavy tool

    • SMALL SQUARE EDGED KNIFE ("pang-gi") - This knife is small in comparison to the other metal tools.