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Angono Petroglyphs, Binangonan, Rizal, Philippines

Die deutsche Version befindet sich hier.

During our summer holidays in the Philippines we spent some time in Manila and since you simply can’t stay on the main island Luzon without having visited the tentative (but not yet) Unesco World Heritage site of the Angono Petroglyphs we went on a small trip (it is just 2.5 to 3 hours from Manila) to the rock shelter of Angono.

The Angono rock shelter near Angono, Rizal, Luzon, Philippines was discovered in 1965 by the artist Carlos ‘Botong’ Francisco on a field trip with boy scouts. The significance of this petroglyph site was immediately recognized and recording of the petroglyphs as well as excavation of the rock shelter started in the same year. In 1998 a small museum was built to emphasize the cultural value of the site. Since 1993 it was submitted to the tentative list of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Contrary to the description on the Unesco website it is not a cave but a rock shelter of about 63 m length and up to 5 m height.

binangonan1

Photo: Torwen Baus

The engravings are basically spread on a 25 m long and 3 m high panel and carved into the volcanic tuff. 127 anthropomorphic figures have so far been identified. There are also geometrical motifs like triangles, rectangles, or circles.

binangonan2

Photo: Torwen Baus

binangonan3

Photo: Torwen Baus

Some figures use existing cracks and forms like this one; one leg is actually the side of a small cavern.

Photo: Torwen Baus

Photo: Torwen Baus

Geometric figures:

Photo: Torwen Baus

Photo: Torwen Baus

Up to present these are the oldest engravings that have been found in the Philippines; the only other site with engravings, Alab, Bontoc, Mountainprovince in Northern Luzon are of much later date (after 1500 BC), if they are indeed connected to the coffin burials in a cave below the Alab rock shelter.

Not only engravings can be found in the Philippines. Charcoal rock paintings are known from Peñablanca Caves in Cagayan Valley and Ugpay Cave in the Singnapan Basin in Ransang, Palawan as well as paintings made by using red hematite, known from Anda Peninsula, Bohol Province.

Excavations of the rock shelter produced mainly remains from the Neolithic and Palaeolithic. Palaeolithic pebble tools, but also coarse and low-fired pottery fragments, tortoise shells, and Neolithic polished adzes were found in front of the rock shelter. Since the majority of finds can be allocated to the Neolithic it is assumed that the petroglyphs also date to the Neolithic (between 2000 and 3000 BC). A well-preserved adze can be viewed at the museum’s exhibition.

Photo: Torwen Baus

This view is also confirmed by comparison with other dated sites in Thailand, Sulawesi, and Malaysia.

As already mentioned, the figures consist mostly of anthropomorphs, tortoises (?), and geometric motifs. Alphabetic writings were added in recent times and show the continuing attraction the rock shelter presented.

Photo: Torwen Baus

Photo: Torwen Baus

Even the modern tunnel leading to the museum and petroglyph site is full of carvings:

Photo: Torwen Baus

Photo: Torwen Baus

Although we cannot know the purpose of these signs we know that apart from profane reasons like looking for shelter and protection, caves and rock shelters were often used for burials and/or offerings. The famous Duyong burial in Palawan was a Neolithic burial that was included into an already existing shell midden inside the cave. Polished adzes were part of his funerary kit, but also tridacna shell adzes. The teeth of the young man were stained and presented the first evidence of betel nut chewing. But also the late Neolithic early metal ages jar burials can be found in caves as well as coffin burials.

Even older are the remains of a cremation burial in Ille Cave, Palawan. This burial of a young woman was incorporated in an existing shell midden, too. Radiocarbon dates gave an age of 7000 BC (Lewis et al. 2008).

In Angono, no skeletons have been found during the excavations and since the excavation reports are not easily accessible outside of the Philippines, I do not know whether Angono rock shelter was used as a living space or rather had ritual significance. Were the adze pieces deliberately broken and/or subjected to fire? Are tortoise shells rare in cave sites? After all Angono rock shelter is 235 m above sea level. Have the shells been found in a limited concentration which could suggest feasting events similar to the upbuilding of shell middens? Were the pots smashed? I cannot say, but I know that the Angono site had a special meaning for the Neolithic population in order to come up here time after time and carve the walls of the rock shelter.

Location: 14°31’58.34″N 121°11’12.46″E

Lewis et al. 2008. Terminal Pleistocene to mid-Holocene occupation and an early cremation burial at Ille Cave, Palawan, Philippines, Antiquity 82, 318-35.

Peralta, Jesus T. 1973. The Petroglyphs of the Angono Rockshelter, Rizal, Philippines. Master Thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of the Philippines, Diliman. Philippines National Museum.

Exploring the pre-historic Angono petroglyphs (blog post)

Philippines National Museum

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1 Comment

  1. Angono Petroglyphen, Binangonan, Rizal, Philippinen « Querbeet durch die Archäologie

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