Category Archives: PHILIPPINES

New Dates Offer Insight Into Ice Age Occupation of the Philippines

New Dates Offer Insight Into Ice Age Occupation of the Philippines

Archaeologists from UP Diliman (UPD) and the National Museum, and leaders and members of the indigenous Pala’wan community unearthed new discoveries dating back to the last glacial maximum (LGM) or at the height of the last ice age at Pilanduk Cave in Palawan.

The research Tropical island adaptations in Southeast Asia during the Last Glacial Maximum: evidence from Palawan presented new data from the re-excavation of Pilanduk Cave such as “evidence for specialized deer hunting and freshwater mollusc foraging, LGM fossils for the tiger and remains of other native mammal and reptile fauna of Palawan,” UPD archaeologist Janine Ochoa, PhD, said in an UPDate Online email interview.

Ochoa, an assistant professor of anthropology at the UPD Department of Anthropology, is the co-principal investigator and lead author of the research article.

She said the research also found “new radiocarbon dates that securely place the age of human occupation of Pilanduk Cave at the LGM/Last Ice Age at ca. 20,000-25,000 years ago,” and “evidence for shifting foraging behaviours (ecological and behavioural flexibility) of modern humans occupying changing tropical environments (climate and environmental changes) across ca. 40,000 years on Palawan Island.”

New Dates Offer Insight Into Ice Age Occupation of the Philippines
The 2016 Archaeological Team.

Together with co-principal investigator Ame Garong, PhD, of the National Museum, the research team re-excavated the site in October 2016.

“We conducted the analysis of the archaeological material (vertebrate fossils, mollusc/shell remains, lithics/stone tools) from 2017 up to 2020,” Ochoa said.

Pilanduk Cave is known to be an important late Pleistocene archaeological site in the Philippines. It is part of the ancestral domain of the Pala’wan community in Maasin, Quezon Municipality in Palawan with Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title No. RO4-QUE-O110-143.

Ochoa and the team pursued the re-excavation of Pilanduk Cave to further the previous research conducted by Jonathan Kress and the National Museum in 1969-1970.

She said, “There has been a need to verify the dates reported by Kress, due to the limited stratigraphic data available for Pilanduk, and the limitations of the radiocarbon dating method at the time of Kress’s excavation in the 1970s particularly for dating mollusc remains.”

According to Ochoa, the site has a large and well-preserved archaeological assemblage of faunal material, which are vertebrate remains and shells/molluscs, as well as lithic materials or stone tool assemblage.

Panoramic view of Pilanduk Cave.

“In fact, it has the best preserved LGM archaeological record from any site in the Philippine archipelago. There are not many LGM sites in the Philippines because many are likely submerged underwater when the coastlines and the sea levels were much lower during the LGM,” she said.

The research has been released online and is published in Antiquity, an international archaeology journal. It will come out in the October 2022 issue and can be viewed at

In a related development, Kress, who led the first archaeological research of Pilanduk Cave in the 1970s passed away on Aug. 6. His colleagues, led by Ochoa, issued the following statement with his passing:

A tiger’s foot bone was recovered during the October 2016 excavation.

“The archaeological work in Pilanduk Cave would not have been possible without the previous research of Jonathan Kress, who led the first excavation of the site in 1970. Jonathan passed away on 6 August 2022. The Pilanduk and Ille Cave teams remember him most fondly, especially for his joie de vivre and enthusiasm for field work, stone tools, and molluscs. He would share and recall the local names of various shell taxa, which were taught to him by the indigenous team he worked with. Engaging with students was important for him and he regaled us with exciting and adventurous stories about Palawan in the 1970s. We remember Jonathan as gentle, kind, patient, and full of wisdom.”

World War II Battleship Discovered in Deep Waters

World War II Battleship Discovered in Deep Waters

A U.S. Navy destroyer escort that engaged a superior Japanese fleet in the largest sea battle of World War II in the Philippines has become the deepest wreck to be discovered, according to explorers.

World War II Battleship Discovered in Deep Waters
In this Wednesday, June 22, 2022, image provided by Caladan Oceanic, the three-tube torpedo launcher that was part of the USS Samuel B. Roberts can be seen underwater off the Philippines in the Western Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Navy destroyer that engaged a superior Japanese fleet in the largest sea battle of World War II in the Philippines has become the deepest wreck to be discovered, according to explorers. (Caladan Oceanic via AP)

The USS Samuel B. Roberts, popularly known as the “Sammy B,” was identified on Wednesday and broken into two pieces on a slope at a depth of 6,985 meters (22,916 feet).

That puts it 426 meters (1,400 feet) deeper than the USS Johnston, the previous deepest wreck discovered last year in the Philippine Sea also by American explorer Victor Vescovo, founder of Dallas-based Caladan Oceanic Expeditions. He announced the latest find together with U.K.-based EYOS Expeditions.

“It was an extraordinary honour to locate this incredibly famous ship, and by doing so have the chance to retell her story of heroism and duty to those who may not know of the ship and her crew’s sacrifice,” Vescovo, a former Navy commander, said in a statement.

The Sammy B. took part in the Battle off Samar, the final phase of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, in which the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered its biggest loss of ships and failed to dislodge the U.S. forces from Leyte, which they invaded earlier as part of the liberation of the Philippines.

According to some records, the destroyer escort disabled a Japanese heavy cruiser with a torpedo and significantly damaged another while battling the group led by the command battleship Yamato.

After having spent virtually all its ammunition, it was critically hit by the battleship Kongo and sank. Of a 224-man crew, 89 died and 120 were saved, including the captain, Lt. Cmdr. Robert W. Copeland.

According to Samuel J. Cox, a retired admiral and naval historian, Copeland stated there was “no higher honour” than to have led the men who displayed such incredible courage going into battle against overwhelming odds, from which survival could not be expected.

“This site is a hallowed war grave, and serves to remind all Americans of the great cost born by previous generations for the freedom we take for granted today,” Cox said in a statement.

The explorers said that up until the discovery, the historical records of where the wreck lay were not very accurate.

The search involved the use of the deepest side-scan sonar ever installed and operated on a submersible, well beyond the standard commercial limitations of 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), EYOS said.

700,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Point To Mysterious Human Relative

700,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Point To Mysterious Human Relative

Someone butchered a rhinoceros in the Philippines hundreds of thousands of years before modern humans arrived — but who?

by Michael Greshko, National Geographic

Stone tools found in the Philippines predate the arrival of modern humans to the islands by roughly 600,000 years — but researchers aren’t sure who made them. The eye-popping artefacts, unveiled on Wednesday in Nature, were abandoned on a river floodplain on the island of Luzon beside the butchered carcass of a rhinoceros. The ancient toolmakers were clearly angling for a meal.

700,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Point To Mysterious Human Relative

Two of the rhino’s limb bones are smashed in as if someone was trying to harvest and eat the marrow inside. Cut marks left behind by stone blades crisscross the rhino’s ribs and ankle, a clear sign that someone used tools to strip the carcass of meat.

But the age of the remains makes them especially remarkable: The carved bones are most likely between 631,000 and 777,000 years old, with researchers’ best estimate coming in around 709,000 years old. The research — partially funded by the National Geographic Society — pushes back occupation of the Philippines to before the known origin of our species, Homo sapiens. The next-earliest evidence of Philippine hominins comes from Luzon’s Callao Cave, in the form of a 67,000-year-old foot bone.

“It was surprising to find such an old peopling of the Philippines,” says lead study author Thomas Ingicco, an archaeologist with France’s National Museum of Natural History. While the researchers don’t know which archaic cousin of ours butchered the rhino, the find will likely cause a stir among people studying the human story in the South Pacific — especially those wondering how early hominins got to the Philippines in the first place.

“I think it’s pretty spectacular,” says Michael Petraglia, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History who was not involved in the work.

“While there had been claims for early hominins in places like the Philippines, there wasn’t any good evidence until now.”

Dating With Confidence

Several of the habitable islands across the South Pacific have long been hemmed off by swaths of open ocean, so it was thought that humans’ ancient cousins couldn’t have made it to them without knowing how to sail. But as the saying goes, life finds a way. In 2004, researchers unveiled Homo floresiensis, which lived on the isolated island of Flores for hundreds of thousands of years. In 2016, researchers also found stone tools on Sulawesi, an island north of Flores. As National Geographic reported at the time, the Sulawesi tools date to at least 118,000 years ago, or some 60,000 years before the first anatomically modern humans arrived.

“It’s really, really exciting — it’s now becoming increasingly clear that ancient forms of hominins were able to make significant deep-sea crossings,” says Adam Brumm, a paleoanthropologist at Griffith University who studies H. floresiensis.

In search of similar sites, Ingicco and Dutch biologist John de Vos went to Kalinga, a site in northern Luzon with a reputation for yielding ancient bones. Researchers had found animal bones and stone tools there since the 1950s, but those scattered remains couldn’t be dated. To prove that ancient hominins had lived at Kalinga, de Vos and Ingicco needed to find artefacts that were still buried. In 2014, the team dug a test pit at Kalinga about seven feet to the side. Almost immediately, the researchers started finding bones that belonged to a long-extinct rhinoceros. Soon, they had uncovered an entire skeleton, as well as stone tools left behind by its butchers.

To get an age range for the site, the team measured the sediments and the rhino’s teeth to see how much radiation they had naturally absorbed over time. In addition, they measured the natural uranium content of one of the rhino’s teeth, since that element decays like clockwork into thorium. In the mud around the rhino’s bones, they also found a speck of melted glass from an asteroid impact dated to about 781,000 years ago.

“Nowadays, it’s necessary that you try various methods to nail the dates because, in the past, there have been so many dates that have proved unreliable,” says study coauthor Gerrit van den Bergh, a University of Wollongong sedimentologist.

The Unusual Suspects

The list of possible toolmakers includes the Denisovans, a ghost lineage of hominins known from DNA and a handful of Siberian fossils. The leading candidate, though, is the early hominin Homo erectus, since it definitely made its way into southeast Asia. The Indonesian island of Java has H. erectus fossils that are more than 700,000 years old.

Ingicco’s team suggests that the butchers may have been Luzon’s version of H. floresiensis, which may have descended from a population of H. Erectus that ended up on Flores. Over millennia, the H. Erectus there may have evolved to live efficiently on a predator-free island, shrinking in a process called island dwarfism. In 2010, a team led by University of Philippines Diliman archaeologist Armand Mijares found the Callao Cave foot bone, which has measurements that overlap with both modern humans and H. floresiensis. Was this Luzon hominin a homegrown hobbit, descended from H. Erectus castaways that arrived hundreds of thousands of years before? It’s too soon to say.

“We don’t have any information about 600,000 years of prehistory, [so] it’s a reach,” says Petraglia.

Riding Out the Storm?

Whoever they were, the toolmakers’ ancestors may have taken one of two migration routes into the Philippines, according to Ingicco’s team: a west-to-east route from Borneo or Palawan, or a north-to-south route from China and Taiwan. But it’s an open question how these hominins crossed the open ocean.

It’s tempting to think that our extinct cousins used rudimentary boats: When news of the Callao Cave remains broke in 2010, some experts chalked up their presence to ancient seafarers. But the idea is still considered farfetched. Rhinos and elephant-like creatures also made it to Luzon, and they clearly didn’t build boats.

The Philippines’ Tubbataha is host to 600 species of fish, 13 species of whales and dolphins, and 360 species of coral. The reef’s isolated location, combined with committed management, has left it in a nearly pristine state.

Perhaps large animals and the butchers’ ancestors accidentally rode to Luzon on floating masses of mud and aquatic plants, torn off coastlines by large storms. Regional tsunamis may have also washed some terrified H. Erectus out to sea. As they clung to floating debris, they may have inadvertently island-hopped.

“Water dispersal by H. Erectus is accidental — there’s no Manifest Destiny, there’s no plot,” says Russell Ciochon, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Iowa at Iowa City. There are also outstanding questions about what happened when and if descendants of these early hominins made contact with the first modern humans to reach Luzon:

“Did our species come face to face with these creatures? What is the nature of that contact?” wonders Brumm.

These and other questions remain to be answered, but researchers say that study of the human story in Luzon — and the South Pacific writ large — is only just beginning.

A new clue to human evolution’s biggest mystery emerges in the Philippines

New clue to human evolution’s biggest mystery emerges in Philippines

Denisovans are an elusive bunch, known mainly from ancient DNA samples and traces of that DNA that the ancient hominids shared when they interbred with Homo sapiens. They left their biggest genetic imprint on people who now live in Southeast Asian islands, nearby Papua New Guinea and Australia.

New clue to human evolution's biggest mystery emerges in Philippines
Ayta people in the Philippines, shown here, belong to a group of ethnic communities that includes one with the highest level of Denisovan ancestry in the world, a new study finds.

Genetic evidence now shows that a Philippine Negrito ethnic group has inherited the most Denisovan ancestry of all. Indigenous people known as the Ayta Magbukon get around 5 per cent of their DNA from Denisovans, a new study finds.

This finding fits an evolutionary scenario in which two or more Stone Age Denisovan populations independently reached various Southeast Asian islands, including the Philippines and a landmass that consisted of what’s now Papua New Guinea, Australia and Tasmania.

The exact arrival dates are unknown, but nearly 200,000-year-old stone tools found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi may have been made by Denisovans (SN: 1/13/16). H. sapiens groups that started arriving around 50,000 years ago or more then interbred with resident Denisovans.

Evolutionary geneticists Maximilian Larena and Mattias Jakobsson, both at Uppsala University in Sweden, and their team describe the new evidence on August 12 in Current Biology.

Even as the complexities of ancient interbreeding in Southeast Asia become clearer, Denisovans remain a mysterious crowd. “It’s unclear how the different Denisovan groups on the mainland and on Southeast Asian islands were related [to each other] and how genetically diverse they were,” Jakobsson says.

Papua New Guinea highlanders — estimated to carry close to 4 per cent Denisovan DNA in the new study — were previously thought to be the modern record-holders for Denisovan ancestry. But the Ayta Magbukon display roughly 30 per cent to 40 per cent more Denisovan ancestry than Papua New Guinea highlanders and Indigenous Australians, Jakobsson says.

That calculation accounts for the recent mating of East Asians with Philippine Negrito groups, including the Ayta Magbukon, that diluted Denisovan inheritance to varying degrees.

Genetic analyses suggest that Ayta Magbukon people retain slightly more Denisovan ancestry than other Philippine Negrito groups due to having mated less often with East Asian migrants to the island around 2,281 years ago, the scientists say.

Their genetic analyses compared ancient DNA from Denisovans and Neandertals with that of 1,107 individuals from 118 ethnic groups in the Philippines, including 25 Negrito populations. Comparisons were then made to previously collected DNA from present-day Papua New Guinea highlanders and Indigenous Australians.

The new report underscores that “still today there are populations that have not been fully genetically described and that Denisovans were geographically widespread,” says paleogeneticist Cosimo Posth of the University of Tübingen in Germany, who was not part of the new research.

But it’s too early to say whether Stone Age Homo fossils found on Southeast Asian islands come from Denisovans, populations that interbred with Denisovans or other Homo lineages, Posth says. Only DNA extracted from those fossils can resolve that issue, he adds. Unfortunately, ancient DNA preserves poorly in fossils from tropical climates.

Only a handful of confirmed Denisovan fossils exist. Those consist of a few fragmentary specimens from a Siberian cave where Denisovans lived from around 300,000 to 50,000 years ago (SN: 1/30/19), and a roughly 160,000-year-old partial jaw found on the Tibetan Plateau (SN: 5/1/19). 

Fossils from the Philippines initially classed as H. luzonensis, dating to 50,000 years ago or more (SN: 4/10/19), might actually represent Denisovans. But a lack of consensus on what Denisovans looked like leaves the evolutionary identity of those fossils uncertain.

Larena and Jakobsson’s findings “further increase my suspicions that Denisovan fossils are hiding in plain sight” among previously excavated discoveries on Southeast Asian islands, says population geneticist João Teixeira of the University of Adelaide in Australia, who did not participate in the new study.

Denisovans may have genetically encompassed H. luzonensis and two other fossil hominids found on different Southeast Asian islands, H. floresiensis on Flores and H. erectus on Java, Teixeira suspects. H. floresiensis, or hobbits, survived from at least 100,000 years ago to around 60,000 years ago (SN: 6/8/16). H. Erectus arrived on Java about 1.6 million years ago and died out between 117,000 and 108,000 years ago (SN: 12/18/19).

Geographic ancestry patterns on Southeastern Asian islands and in Australia suggest that this region was settled by a genetically distinct Denisovan population from southern parts of mainland East Asia, Teixeira and his colleagues reported in the May Nature Ecology & Evolution.

700,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Point to Mysterious Human Relative

700,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Point to Mysterious Human Relative

A recent finding of stone instruments and other evidence has shown that in Southeast Asia hominins, our pre-human relatives – were in South East Asia hundreds of thousands of years earlier than we thought.

The 57 stone tools and an almost complete rhinocéros skeleton which shows signs of being butchered were found in the Philippines and date back 709,000 years.

Previously, the earliest evidence for hominin habitation in the area was found in Callao Cave, a river-floodplain on the northern island of Luzon. It’s only 67,000 years old.

Researchers found a 700,000-year-old site on the Philippine island of Luzon where unknown hominins butchered a rhinoceros. To avoid damaging the bones, the team dug them up with only bamboo sticks.

The tools found consist of 49 sharp-edge stone flakes, six cores – the stones from which the flakes are hammered – and two possible hammer stones. In addition, the site yielded a collection of skeletons: a stegodon, brown deer, freshwater turtle, and monitor lizard.

The rhinoceros skeleton was very interesting. Several of the bones had cut marks consistent with butchering, and the humerus bones seemed to have been hit with a hammerstone, possibly to access the rich marrow inside.

The tools weren’t made by humans – our oldest evidence of Homo sapiens is from about 300,000 years ago – but by a close ancestor. And their presence means we need to reconsider how humans and hominins spread through South East Asia.

Archaeologist Gerrit van den Bergh from the University of Wollongong in Australia says that hominins most likely spread through the region in several waves throughout the millennia.

He also believes that they probably travelled from north to south from China and Taiwan, rather than west to East from Borneo or Palawan through Indonesia, using the ocean currents and settling as they went.

Eventually, this migration could have landed on the Indonesian island of Flores to give rise to Homo floresiensis, also known as the “hobbit” for its small stature.

Evidence of hominins dating back 700,000 years has been found on the Indonesian island of Java. In addition, Homo floresiensis ancestors have been found on Flores from around the same time. Both of these finds are consistent with the new migration hypothesis.

Previously, it had been thought that hominins didn’t have boats, and therefore couldn’t have travelled by water to reach Luzon and the other islands of Wallacea, the group of islands separated from mainland Australia and Asia by deep oceans.

But the north-to-south migration hypothesis is supported by another fossil record: that of animals.

“If you look at the fossil and recent faunas you see that there is an impoverishment as you go from north to south. On Luzon, you find fossils of stegodons, elephants, giant rats, rhino, deer, large reptiles, and a type of water buffalo.

“On Sulawesi, the fossil fauna is already impoverished; there’s no evidence of rhinos or deer ever entering there. Then on Flores, you only had stegodons, Komodo dragons, humans, and giant rats, that’s all,” van den Bergh said.

“If animals did reach these islands by chance, by entering the sea and following the currents south, then you would expect the further south you go the fewer species you would find – and that’s what we see.”

If the animals didn’t have boats, the humans needn’t have either. However, they could have had rafts, used for fishing, or been caught up in debris and carried out to sea by tsunamis, which are relatively common in the area.

Who these hominins were is unknown, and will probably remain so without their bones to study. They could have been the ancestors of the owner of that foot bone hundreds of thousands of years later; they could have been Luzon’s version of Homo floresiensis; or they could have been a different group, perhaps even the mysterious Denisovans. But the discovery has archaeologists excited to keep digging to see what else they can find.

“There’s a lot of focus again in the islands of South East Asia because they are places where you find natural experiments in hominin evolution. That’s what makes Flores unique, and now Luzon is another place we can start looking for fossil evidence,” van den Bergh said.

“On Flores, we’re pretty certain they arrived about 1 million years ago based on stone tool evidence, but we don’t know when hominins first arrived on Luzon. Now we can go looking in older strata and see if we can find more artifacts, or even better, fossil evidence.”