Between thirty to ten thousand years ago during the last Ice Age tremendous changes took place in the Island world of Southeast Asia. The ice sheets in the polar regions melted with the rising temperatures of the earth, resulting in the rising of the level of the sea. Vast tracts of land were flooded including all the land bridges that once connected the islands to the continent of Asia. This melting of the ice was the last in a series of at least four alternating icing and melting that took place during the Pleistocene or Ice Ages. Earth-building changes took place that caused alterations in the weather, wind and water currents, amount of rain and other aspects of the environment, and affected the lives of the human populations.
The period saw man adapting to the new physical environment the major factor of which was the loss of large land areas. Population groups slowly split as they adjusted to the changing coast lines. Much of this movement involved long distances over bodies of water that made travel easier. It was during this period that archeological proofs begun to show that the life ways of people had changed a great deal from earlier times. Something tremendous had happened leading to a much faster pace in life compared to the very slow development during the preceding thousands of years. For instance, from the type of tools found in the Cagayan Valley to that of Tabon Cave in Palawan, there was no sign of change until about this time when Guri Cave also in Palawan was used by man. Here it was clear that man was paying more attention to the shape of his stone tools, specially the working edge. From archeological sites now began appearing stone tools that are rather flat and elongated with the working edge found only on one end. At first natural stones with such shapes with one end ground to form an edge were used.
This kind of tools was to be called edge-ground tools. Although it sounds simple, this was a big step from the flaking method of making tools in the previous age. Later on, a further step was made by shaping stones to form the body of tools. By flaking a stone core all over, man was able to make a rectangular tablet one end of which he ground to a sharp working edge; and even much later, the entire surface was ground to make the tool smooth to hold. Still later on he polished the tool with care making some truly works of art. The form of the tools now assumed an elongated shape. There were different tool cross sections: oval, rectangular, quadrangular, triangular and many others. The working edges, too, were of many shapes: straight, concave, convex, and others to suit special uses as adze, axe, gouge, chisel and so on. It was on the basis of the appearance of this type of tools after the end of the Ice Age that this period was referred to as the New Stone or Neolithic Age although Old Stone Age kinds of tools continued to appear in archeological sites together with polished stone tools.
The appearance of this type of tools within a relatively short period of time suggest that there is a similar change in the life ways of the people that requires the development of these tools. There is a saying that form follows function. If this were true, the tools developed because there were now new human needs that required the use of special kinds of tools. Where before the tools could only cut and scrape in very limited ways, the new tools could be used to shape planks, gouge out a tree trunk to dig out a boat, make other tools, reap, chop, dig and so on, in a wide variety of ways. In short, the new tools were more efficient and effective. These allowed man to develop even further and in an increasingly faster pace.
One of the markers of this period, too, was the first proof that earthenware was in use early during this age. About 6000 years B.C. pottery appeared to be already present in northern and southern Philippines. Evidence of this was found in the Laurente Cave in the province of Cagayan, and the Sanga-sanga Cave in the Sulu archipelago. These evidences were further backed up by more Carbon 14 datings showing that by 5000 years B.C. the making and use of pottery were already widespread all over the Philippines, including the provinces of Isabela, Palawan and the Masbate.
In the whole of Asia, the earliest pottery yet to be dated c0mesfrom the Padah-lin Cave of Myanmar (Burma) and Japan which date to about the 11,000 years B.C. The dates in the Philippines are about the same as the middle level of this site in yanmar, a little bit earlier than pottery in Cambodia and the Yang Shao culture of China, and about as old as the lower levels of the famous Spirit Cave of Thailand. Thus the development of pottery in the Philippines was roughly taking place along with the same event in the mainland of Asia, suggesting the existence of a widespread pottery technology at the end of the Ice Ages.
The very earliest pottery in Asia, although found largely in fragments, are plain pottery of unknown forms. The very earliest ever recorder, however, included the use of paddles and anvils in forming the vessel walls in pot-making, apart from hand-molding, a method that is still in use till now. One of the traits of early pottery is the use of the so-called “carved” and “cord-bound” paddles. The carved paddle usually have grooves cut in parallel lines on the surface so that when the pot is hit with it supported by a shell operculum or stone anvil inside the vessel, the marks are left on the clay. At times the grooves are cut at right angles to each other forming net-like marks on the pot surface. Sometimes the paddle is wrapped with cord to leave the negative impressions on the clay. The use of these methods gradually became rare as time went on. These methods were present in early Philippine pottery. Apart from these impressed surface marks on the pottery the first form of incised decoration on pottery appeared in Bagumbayan, Masbate at about 4500 B.C., as parallel and combed lines in a few of the fragments.
Pottery during the New Stone Age, too, was quite unique. Each single piece did not have any copy and was very imaginative and beautiful. The Leta-Leta Cave in northern Palawan, for example, yielded at least two such pieces. One of this was a stem cup with the body shaped like an egg with a slender stem with a round flat base. A narrow lip was provided at the mouth of the vessel. Another was a double-gourd vessel, the mouth of which was formed after an open human mouth with the facial features. The most famous of this early pottery was of course the now world-renown burial jar from the Manunggul Cave of Quezon, Palawan. The jar had a bulbous body that tapers down. The shoulder was decorated with scrolls painted using red iron oxide. Between the scrolls the spaces were textured with dots. The jar had a rounded cover also decorated with painted red iron oxide scrolls and dots. On the top of the cover was a boat the bow of which was decorated with a human face. In the boat towards the rear was a boatman holding a paddle and in front was another individual with arms crossed across the breast. It was thought that the crown ornament of the cover showed the soul of the dead being ferried into the next world. This was the most beautiful Philippine pottery from some 900 years before the birth of Christ. Now known as the Manunggul Jar, it has been declared a national treasure.
The pottery suggests many things about the life of the people of that time. First it provided proof of the presence of rice in the Philippines. The husk of rice was found impressed into the clay of a pot sherd recovered from an archeological site in Cagayan valley. The level of the soil where this was found was dated to about 2000 years before Christ. This can mean many things: one, that man at that time was already cultivating rice for food, or at least gathering this as food supplement, if it was not already a staple. The use of the grain could imply a life style that does not force people to wander about large areas in order to obtain their basic daily needs. It meant a closer clustering of social units in low, floodplains where rice grows naturally, and where there were clays available for the making of earthenware. This suggested a river-oriented life where the best means of transportation were the bodies of water through the use of water craft made possible by the new types of tools. Suggested was a kind of life where more food was produced than could be eaten making possible activities other than merely the production food.
An other new activity was also shown by earthen spindle whorles – large beads of clay placed on the lower part of sticks to serve as counter-weights in the making of thread. These spindle whorles found in New Stone Age sites in Cagayan Valley suggested the weaving of cloth, in addition to the earlier use of the polished stone beater in the making of bark cloth. It is probable that the products of pot-making and weaving were used by the people who made them, although it is also probable that some of these were also exchanged for some other goods. Beyond the quest for food, the New Stone Age reveled for the first time an aspect that shows man’s humanity. The best example of this is Duyong Cave of Palawan. In this site the earliest intact burial ever discovered in the Philippines was found. With the flexed skeleton were lime containers made of shell – the first evidence of the betel chewing complex that included the use of lime, a social habit widespread in Southeast Asia. Another striking find with this burial were discs ground from the base of cone shells, some with holes near the edge while others with the holes in the center of the discs. These were the earliest body ornaments ever found, showing for the first time in this country man’s awareness of beauty.
The other forms of ornament during this early time were jade beads dated as early as about 3000 years before Christ coming from the Dimolit site near Palanan Bay in Isabela which also yielded decorated pottery stone grinders and mortars and more important, flake tools with the so-called “silica gloss”. This gloss on the edge of the stone tools usually suggested use in the reaping of plants – again probable proof of plant cultivation by man. Other beads and pendants were reported from Palawan and the Cagayan Valley which were of about the same age, some of jade and many more made from little shell discs and small snails, the stone beads apart from jade were also made from black and white onyx and were of many different shapes: barrel-shaped, rectangular, round, disc-like. There were also ornaments like ear pendants made from fired clay with the surfaces decorated with lines. Others were made from bone and tusks of wild pig and monkey teeth. Bracelets, too, were found not only made from shell, tusk, but also of jade, agate and jasper. It is clear from the findings of archeology that the use of body ornaments during this period was already widespread all over the islands, in the same manner that pottery was also found throughout the land. However, these were on the other hand much more rare than pottery and during those times these must have been items of immense value.
All these items recovered from burials also suggest that the early peoples of these islands have a set of beliefs and values that guide different aspects of daily living. Much of knowledge about these beliefs come from the way they treated their dead. There are a number of ways they bury the dead as: with the body flexed and placed directly into the ground; buried first in the ground or left until only the bones remained and then placed in burial jars. Also in later times the remains were burned and the bones placed in small pots inside caves. Some bones are covered with red iron oxide before being placed inside vessels. It is likely that many more other practices existed in different places, but the above alone shows that there are different ways people treated the dead depending on the culture of the place. It indicates that not just one culture existed in the islands but many, and many variations of each one.
The way they treated their dead also give an idea of their belief in an after-life. The flexed skeleton uncovered in the Duyong Cave in Palawan was found together with polished quadrangular adzes made of stone and adzes made from the hinge of the giant clam, shell disc ornaments and a bivalve containing lime used in betel-nut chewing, among others. In the other end of the island, in the Arku Cave of Penablanca, Cagayan, buried with the human remains were pottery, jade earrings, spindle whorles, bone tools, bark cloth beater and others. These shows that there was a widespread practice of putting things used in daily life with the dead, probably the personal belongings of the person. Considering that these things during those times must have been valuable, these would not have been left buried unless there is a greater need for them by the dead rather than by the living. The practice suggests a deep belief in life after death, and the burying of grave goods was for the purpose of providing the loved one with things to use in the after-life.
There are a number of other ideas that can be learned from the grave goods. One of these is that by this time there were already differences in the number and quality of the material belongings of people. This can only mean that in producing daily needs some households were able to make more than what they could consume. This surplus could then be exchanged with other things that they themselves did not produce like pottery, ornaments, tools and the like. It can be surmised that apart from food exchanges there now existed trade that has to do with non-food goods, some that are wanted for their beauty and the prestige that these bring. From the nature of some of the goods, it was clear that some of these traveled long distance even over large bodies of water, as the beads made of semi-precious stones like jade, onyx and jasper.
Trade of this kind is added proof that people by this time lived in more or less permanent places using structures that are largely man-made. Traces of two structures dating to this period was found in Dimolit, Isabela. Portions of two other structures were also found. The forms were suggested by the presence of round postholes in two rows forming a more or less square enclosure with a gap in the north wall suggesting the entrance. The area within the enclosure was littered with potsherds and flakes, and the soil was compact. Each of the structure had the remains of fireplace in the southwestern corner. The living area is the ground level itself. The age of one of the structure was between 1220 to 3390 years before Christ, the earliest evidence for a man-made structure in this country.