Philippine Archeological Treasures, Part 1
by Ping Bayani
April 2016

Archeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains. In this issue, we start a series of such historical finds unearthed from Philippines past, items now declared National Cultural Treasures.

1. The Laguna Copper Plate Inscription (LCI).

Accidentally discovered in 1986 near the mouth of Lumbang River, the Laguna Copper Plate Inscription or LCI is the earliest historical document in the country and also the only pre-Spanish document discovered so far. Now a National Cultural Treasure, the LCI measures 7x12 inches when unrolled.

In 1990, the National Museum purchased the LCI and sought help from Antoon Postma, a Dutch national who was then the director of the Mangyan Assistance and Research Center, to decipher the inscription.

Postma, with the help of Dr. Johan de Casparis, later found out that the LCI was written in Kavi (old Javanese writing system) and the language used was a combination of Old Tagalog, Old Javanese, Old Malay and Sanskrit.

Even more surprising is the fact that the Philippines' oldest document was neither a poem nor a song but a legal document called suddhapattra which, in today's context, is a receipt for payment of debt.

According to Postma's interpretation, the document was written on the fourth day of the waning moon of the month of Waisakha in the Shaka year 822 (April 21, 900 CE by the Western calendar). It stated that the debt of gold amounting to one kati and eight swarna (equivalent to 865 grams) owned by Namwaran was cancelled and the document given to his daughter, Angkatan.

2. The Yawning Jarlet of Leta-Leta Cave.

This jarlet is the earliest pot recovered in the country. It has a distinct rim that resembles a shouting or yawning person, hence the name.

Discovered by Dr. Robert Fox in Leta-Leta Cave, northern Palawan in 1965, this jarlet is associated to the Late Neolithic period (approximately 1000 to 1500 BC). It was excavated in a burial site where a stone adze as well as other intact pieces of pottery – including a stem cup and a footed jarlet, both of which have also been declared national cultural treasures – were recovered.