Quest for a Paleolithic Camotes II

(This is Part II of the follow-up to the special report entitled “Reviewing Cebu History” that I wrote for The Freeman and came out from Aug. 30-Sept. 1, 1993. This came out on Nov. 5, 1993–Candido O. Wenceslao)
In looking back at the past we almost never knew, we inevitably have to rely on the chronicles of civilizations not our own. Other peoples who came in contact with our ancestors wrote about our islands and left behind commodities that became the artifacts found in various diggings.
One of the civilizations our ancestors had had extensive dealings with is China in the mainland of Asia. The contact may have even gone farther, if we consider the widely accepted theory that more than 50,000 years ago people from mainland Asia moved towards the archipelago through the land bridges brought about by the Ice Age.
Other people actually visited the islands prior to the coming of the Spaniards, among them the Arabs who tried to spread the Islamic religion from the south. There is an oral tradition in Poro, Camotes about the “Moros” conducting forays in the islands and kidnapping natives to be sold as slaves.
The UP team from the Department of Anthropology in Diliman, which conducted an initial survey of the archeological find in Poro, believed that a large settlement with roots as far back as 3,000 years ago, existed in Camotes. This belief was based on the initial study of the artifacts dug by treasure hunters in relation to past civilizations notably that of China.


SUNG-MING PERIOD
Trade between the Chinese and the natives of the Philippines intensified under the Sung, Yuan and Ming dynasties. That was from as early as 960 AD to 1644 AD.
The Sung dynasty was divided into the Northern Sung (960-1126 AD) and Southern Sung (1126-1279 AD). Manufacturing made tremendous headway during this period and sea trade expanded with the improvement of navigational equipments.
Diversified specialization and production of high quality earthenware progressed into the making of genuine porcelain that, as we shall see later, was one of the main trade wares brought into the Philippines.
The rise of Genghis Khan and his successor, Kublai Khan, over the Mongol tribes starting in 1206 proved ominous to the rule of the Sung dynasty, which succumbed to the hordes conquests in 1279. The Yuan dynasty that followed did not, however, change drastically China’s position in the world.
The battles against the Mongols in China eventually drove them out and with it arose the Ming dynasty in 1368. Chinese culture once again flourished during this period and, as in the Sung, international trade thrived.
Noteworthy during this period was the raising of the quality of state-sponsored crafts, particularly porcelain wares. Rich, decorative polychrome wares superseded the sober, delicate monochrome porcelains of the Sung dynasty.
The best-known Ming porcelain had blue-on-white designs that gradually changed from floral and abstract to being pictorial. Some of these products, notably those with willow-pattern designs, became export goods in great demand in Europe.

PORO SETTLEMENT
“This place must have been hospitable to a lot of people,” said archeologist Israel Cabanilla, curator of the UP anthropology museum and member, together with Prof. Jerome Bailen, Lerma de Lima Yambut and Mumtaz Mahal Veloso, of the UP team that went to Camotes from October 26 to 28.
One proof of that hospitality was the flourishing trade between China and the old Camotes settlements during the Spanish times, a theory that was strengthened by the proliferation in Poro of artifacts dating as far back as the Sung-Ming period.
The UP team confirmed this when they went over the artifacts presented to them by the municipal government of Poro led by its Mayor Isaar Rama. The samplings included big and small porcelain monochrome wares and stone wares of the Sung and Yuan period and those with blue-on-white designs of the Ming dynasty.
Big and small jars, locally known as “tibod,” that were used for burial and broken pieces of earthenware also abound. Shards, some of which had incised designs, were scattered in the vicinity of the newly bulldozed road in Taglibas in barangay Daan Paz and in the caves in Kantaw-ang in barangay Cagcagan and Buho in Poblacion, Poro.
The quality of the earthenware, mostly black pottery, pointed to a much earlier period than the Sung-Ming dynasties. This has given rise to the theory that the earthenware proliferated even as far back as 2,500 B.C. or even earlier during the so-called Yang-Shao period.
The UP team observed that the artifacts were within a wide expanse, from the southern part in Poblacion, Poro to Taglibas, which is almost 20 kilometers to the north.
Reports of the same find in the municipalities of San Francisco, Tudela and Pilar strengthened the theory that the Camotes islands were a big and populous old settlement decades before the arrival of the Spaniards.

NEOLITHIC CAMOTES
Camotes’ past, however, goes beyond the pre-Spanish and into the prehistoric. Cabanilla said that some of the artifacts can no longer be viewed within the Sung-Ming frame but to the middle Neolithic or early stone age period.
The Neolithic period began in Southwest Asia about 8,000 B.C. and spread throughout Europe between 6,000 and 2,000 B.C. This was signaled by the development of agriculture with consequent increase in the stability of the population and hence elaboration of the social structure.
But the islands must have reached that stage at a latter period when the sea level began to rise at the end of the Ice Age and when the land bridges to mainland Asia disappeared. Primitive men by then moved out of the caves and settled along the coasts where sea products were plentiful.
Cabanilla placed the Camotes find as far as 3,000 years ago or even earlier, meaning, more than 1,000 years B.C. This was based on what looked like stone tools and shell ornaments traceable to both the Early Phase and the Late Phase Neolithic.
The earliest Neolithic tools were round at the edge with round or oval cross-sections while those used during the latter periods were generally quadrangular in cross-sections. Samplings of these are found in the Gonzaga family in barangay Teguis and in the display at the office of Mayor Rama at the Poro municipal hall.
One of the significant finds when the UP team supervised the digging of skeletal remains in Maktang, Esperanza last October 28 were the Carnelian beads, or semi-precious stones associated with the Metal Age possibly in 400 B.C. or even earlier.

SKELETONS
Part I of our special report entitled “Reviewing Cebu History” extensively discussed the claim that the clash between Lapulapu and Magellan happened not in the present barangay Mactan in Opon but in Maktang, Esperanza in Poro. Residents pointed to some of the skeletal remains found during the frenzy of diggings in 1973–74 and a couple of years ago as that Caucasians.
The UP team is now studying closely some of the skulls and bones samples they brought to Manila after they left Camotes last October 29. Some of those earlier dug up were however studied before they left and measured through what Bailen, who specializes in physical anthropology, calls anthropometric method.
Bailen, who was assisted by UP research associate Veloso, said that the bones dug up in Maktang were that of a people that range in height from 5’3” to 6 feet. This was gauged from samples of broken bones and fragments of skulls taken from Maktang.
But there still is no definite proof that some of the bones are that of Caucasians although it would be also carelessness to conclude that they all come from the natives.
The one dug up last October 28 was that of a male, around 5’7” in height, positioned parallel to the shoreline. Another skeleton was placed on top of him, its feet pointing to the shoreline. Just above the skull of the first man was another skeleton. The space in the Maktang burial ground must have become so limited some of the skeletons are piled atop one another.
Bailen said that one of the skull fragments he studied showed features different from that of the normal Mongoloid (or native). He noted that the Mongoloid incisor was not pronounced, the skull had a pronounced chin and the length of the skull was longer. The nose bridge was still to be measured.
One skull that Bailen said was that of a woman had a small hole that the anthropologist theorized was punctured by a pointed instrument possibly used for fishing. The jawbone of another skull was bigger, again giving rise the speculations it was that of a Caucasoid.
Bones were not only found in Maktang but in other sites in Poro as well, including the cave in Kantaw-ang and in Buho. It was however in the latter cave that the UP team’s excitement almost reached fever pitch.
For there, they found not merely old bones but also those that seemed to be in the process of becoming fossilized. From then on, the possibility that a primitive man from the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age period existed in the islands was raised.

(Up next: Conclusion)

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