October 24, 2008

Discovery May Be Lost Tribe Of Philippines

In what could be a major archaeological discovery, authorities in the Philippines may have unknowingly recovered the remnants of a long-lost tribe during the confiscation of 22 bags of broken pottery seized from antiquity smugglers.

Experts at the National Museum in Manila are now analyzing the burial urns from a Philippine tribe that lived over 2,000 years ago.

"The pottery has human faces that show emotions," said Eusebio Dizon, A U.S.-trained archaeologist who leads the archaeological unit at the National Museum, during an interview with Reuters.

Pictures of people on the shards could mean the tribe had different origins from the native tribes in the Philippines, Dizon said.

"The Manobos, Tirurays and B'laans tribes that have survived over time do not bury their dead in painted anthropomorphic (human form) jars. So, we have no idea what kind of people are behind these unique burial jars."

During the 1990s, Dizon spent years excavating a cave in Sarangani province on Mindanao after treasure hunters told him about rare human form, or anthropomorphic, of pottery in the area.  The jars appear to be from about 5 BC, according to carbon dating tests.

However, the current find could be much older because of the more primitive method used in the pottery as well as the human forms on the jars, Dizon said, adding that further studies are needed to determine the true origins.

"We have no idea where these artifacts come from because the people who were trying to smuggle them out from the area could not tell us where exactly they found those materials. But, I am sure the materials are not fake."

Rene Miguel Dominguez, governor of Sarangani province, said the latest findings occurred near Palembang town, a coastal area in nearby Sultan Kudarat province where Muslim rebels are very active.  Scientists have discovered pottery, stone-age weapons and other artifacts in digs in the area.

"(But) Anthropomorphic pottery is seldom seen in this part of the world," said Dizon.

Angel Bautista, who leads the National Museum's cultural property division, said the government wanted the find to be officially declared a "national treasure," but acknowledged additional study was needed to establish provenance.

Dizon said it was critical for experts to analyze the places where the pottery was discovered, and examine the "primary data" that might expose important data about what might be one of the earliest sites of human habitation in the Philippines.

However, the museum lacked the resources to undertake a significant exploration in an area rife with clashes between military troops and the country's largest Islamic rebel group.

Some of the areas where the pottery was believed to have been found were under the control of Muslim rebels who often demand large sums of money in exchange for further archaeological exploration, Dominguez said.

"These pottery pieces are part of our pre-historic history and the government must do everything to protect the site where these materials were found," he told Reuters.

Aside from rebels and lawless groups that operate in the area, archaeologists may have to race against treasure hunters and antiquity dealers as the artifacts could be worth millions on the black market.

"We could learn more about our past from this pottery, but first we need to preserve and protect the areas from where these materials have been found," Dominguez said.