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The Center for Southeast Asian Studies > Ub-ufok Ad Fiallig Overview > Resources > Archaeology Teacher’s Manual > Brief Introduction to Cordilleran Archaeological Research

Brief Introduction to Cordilleran Archaeological Research

Spanish conquest of northern Luzon was undertaken in the 17th century to exploit the Cordilleran gold mines (Scott 1975: 77). Spain needed to find additional funding for their campaigns during Europe’s Thirty Years’ War, and so King Philip III of Spain ordered his occupying force to capitalize on the colony’s resources. Military expeditions were sent to establish outposts, pacify the indigenous groups, and control economic trade betweenhighland and lowland groups. It was the Spanish missionaries, however, who primarily documented the Cordillera and its people. In 1789, Francisco Antolin, a Dominican missionary, wrote Noticias de los infieles igorrotes en lo interior de la Isla de Manila, which provided a general description of the Cordillera’s physical environment and the indigenous groups’ social, political and economic organization (Antolin and Scott 1970). A more detailed ethnographic account appeared in the mid-19th century from another Dominican missionary, Ruperto Alarcon. In 1857, he published a manuscript about early Ifugao life in Kiangan, Bunhian, and Mayaoyao (Alarcon and Scott, 1965). Despite Catholic proselytizing and military force, Spanish attempts to pacify the region were futile and were continually met with indigenous resistance. The Spanish forces retaliated by burning residences and agricultural fields. Kiangan endured these recriminations twice, first in the 1830s by Colonel Guilermo Galvey, and later by Governor Mariano Oscariz (Scott 1975).

Early anthropological studies of the Cordillera were mostly ethnographic. (For early Ifugao literature see Beyer 1955, Barton 1919, Lambrecht 1932, and Keesing 1962.) Early accounts recorded customs and oral histories, such as kinship and gender roles, traditional ceremonies, origin mythologies, songs and dances, feasts, and other socio-political and economic lifeways. Archaeological contributions to the region’s history, on the other hand, have been sporadic. In the 1970s and 1980s, various ethnoarchaeological studies were conducted in Kalinga to understand present-day ceramic manufacturing, design and technology, and their implications in prehistoric cultural formation processes and the reconstruction of past socio-economic systems (Stark and Skibo 2007, Longacre and Hermes 2015). Recently, ethnohistorical research has been done with the Ibaloi in Benguet to elucidate upland migration and lowland-highland relationships in western Cordillera (Canilao 2009).

Similarly in Ifugao, ethnographic accounts also focused on socio-cultural aspects and further noted the rice terraces as a hallmark of the Ifugao culture. Theories about the antiquity of the rice terraces and the agricultural practice, however, have long been debated. Beyer (1955) and Barton (1919) first proposed a date of 2000-3000 years old, according to personal estimates of duration of terrace construction (Barton 1919: 11). Keesing (1962) and Lambrecht (1932) later disagreed and found the former interpretation lacking in empirical evidence. Based on historical documents and ethnohistoric research of Ifugao folklore, the latter argue that the construction of rice terraces began as a result of Spanish pressure in the lowland areas that caused people to escape north (Maher 1973). It was not until the 1960s, when Robert Maher conducted preliminary archaeological investigations in central and southeastern Ifugao in Banaue, Burnay, and Kiangan (Maher 1973, 1981, 1983, 1984), that material evidence began to reveal Ifugao prehistory. His work focused on early Ifugao settlement patterns, their choice of residence and its association with availability of resources. Maher also initiated discussions on Ifugao pottery collection, its technological and stylistic origins, and its connection to the rest of northern Luzon and greater Southeast Asia (Maher 1973). Early archaeological excavations in Ifugao also provided the very first radiocarbon dates for the Cordillera, which ranged from 1100 – 1800 AD. According to Acabado (2012: 287), the large parameters of Maher’s time frame failed to synthesize and fully comprehend the timing of colonization and agricultural intensification in Ifugao.


Acabado, S.B.

(2012). Taro before rice terraces: Implications of radiocarbon determinations, ethnohistoric reconstructions, and ethnography in dating the Ifugao Rice Terraces. In M. Spriggs, D. Addison, and P.J. Matthews (Eds.), Irrigated Taro (Colocasia esculenta) in the Indo-Pacific, Senri Ethnological Studies 78. National Museum of Ethnology: Osaka, Japan.

Alarcon, R. and Scott, W.H.

(1965). “A description of the customs of the peoples of Kiangan, Bunhian, and Mayoyao, 1857” by Fray Ruperto Alarcon. Journal of the Folklore Institute, 2(1), 78-100.

Antolin, R. and Scott, W.H.

(1970). Notices of the pagan Igorots in 1789. Asian Folklore Studies, 29, 177-249.

Barton R.F.

(1922). Ifugao economics. American Archaeology and Ethnography, 15(5), 85-446.

Beyer, H.O.

(1955). The origins and history of the Philippine rice terraces. In Proceedings of the eighth Pacific Science Congress, 1953. Quezon City: National Research Council of the Philippines.

Canilao, M.A.

(2009). Fording upstream in search for balitok (gold): Ibaloi diaspora into Benguet (part 1). Hukay, Volume 14, 91-110.

Keesing, F.M.

(1962). The Ethnohistory of Northern Luzon. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Lambrecht, F.
(1932). The Mayawyaw ritual: Rice culture ritual, Publications of the Catholic Anthropological Conference, 4(1).

Longacre, A.W. and Hermes, T.R.

(2015). Rice farming and pottery production among the Kalinga: New ethnoarchaeological data from the Philippines. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 38, 35-45.

Maher, R.F.

(1973). Archaeological investigations in Central Ifugao. Asian Perspectives, 16(1), 39-71.

(1981). Archaeological investigations in the Burnay district of southeastern Ifugao, Philippines. Asian Perspectives, 24(2), 223-236.

(1983). Excavations in Bintacan Cave, Ifugao Province, Philippines. Asian Perspectives, 27(1), 59-70.

(1984). Kiyyangan Village of Ifugao Province, Philippines. Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, 12, 116-127.

Scott, W.H.

(1975). History on the Cordillera. Collected Writing on Mountain Province History. Baguio City: Baguio Printing & Publishing Co., Inc.

Stark, M.T. and Skibo, J.M.

(2007). A history of the Kalinga ethnoarchaeological project. In J.M. Skibo, M.W. Graves, and M.T. Stark (Eds.), Archaeological Anthropology: Perspectives on Method and Theory. Tuczon: The University of Arizona Press.

For more recent works on Ifugao archaeology visit the Ifugao Archaeological Project.