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May 2009

Archaeology in the Philippines: the mystery of the ancient inscription

AFTER 50 years of enigma, the text inscribed around the shoulder of the Calatagan pot, the Philippines' oldest cultural artifact with pre-Hispanic writing, may have been deciphered as written in the old Bisayan language. The Calatagan pot is considered one of the Philippines’ most valuable cultural and anthropological artifacts. It has been dated back to the 14th and 16th centuries.

The Philippines has very few artifacts that provide evidence of the earliest form of writing. These include the Laguna copper plate (900 AD), Butuan ivory seal (9th to 12th centuries), Butuan silver strip (14th to 15th centuries) and the Calatagan pot (14th to 16th century).

When Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi came to Philippines in 1567, he observed that inhabitants read and wrote in their own system of writing using an alphabet. The Tagalogs had their own alphabet, the baybayin. It was in wide use in the 16th century, but its users began to wane in the following century.

Among ethno-linguistics groups in the Philippines, only three have retained the use of their syllabic scripts: the Hanunoo and Bahid Mangyan of Mindoro, and the Tagbanwa of Palawan.

A recent article in Inquirer Visayas daily newspaper provides an insight in the current research regarding pre-Hispanic history, culture and writing. The complete article is still available here: Inquirer Visayas – The mystery of the ancient inscription


Further Readings:
→  Philippine Media Centrum Foundation: Ancient Script
→  Thaiindian News: Shard find in Philippines shows an ancient form of writing
→  The daily PCIJ: Calatagan pot inscription no longer a mystery

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