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UP archaeologists discover Ice Age human settlement in Pilanduk Cave, Palawan

UP archaeologists discover Ice Age human settlement in Pilanduk Cave, Palawan.

Inquirer / Zacarian Sarao/ ANN |

New discoveries proving the human occupation of Pilanduk Cave in Palawan 20,000 to 25,000 years at the height of the last ice age were unearthed by a team of archaeologists from UP Diliman (UPD) and the National Museum.

In a statement released through the Diliman Information Office on Monday, UPD archaeologist and lead research author Janine Ochoa and co-principal investigator Ame Garong from the National Museum explained that the cave is an important late Pleistocene (ice age) archaeological site in the Philippines.

This led to the discoveries of “new radiocarbon dates that securely place the age of human occupation of Pilanduk Cave at the LGM (Last Glacial Maximum)/Last Ice Age at ca. 20,000-25,000 years ago and evidence for shifting foraging behaviors (ecological and behavioral flexibility) of modern humans occupying changing tropical environments (climate and environmental changes) across ca. 40,000 years on Palawan Island,” Ochoa said.

New data and evidence for specialized deer hunting and freshwater mollusc foraging were also gathered during the re-excavation, as well as fossils for a tiger and remains of other native mammal and reptile fauna of Palawan.

The two, with their research team, re-excavated the site in 2016 “to further the previous research conducted by Jonathan Kress and the National Museum in 1969-1970,” and conducted the analysis of the archaeological material from 2017 up to 2020.

According to Ochoa, the site has a large and well-preserved archaeological assemblage of faunal material, which are vertebrate remains and shells/molluscs, as well as lithic materials or stone tool assemblage.

The two decided to re-excavate the site to verify the dates reported by Kress, “due to the limited stratigraphic data available for Pilanduk, and the limitations of the radiocarbon dating method at the time of Kress’s excavation in the 1970s particularly for dating mollusc remains.”

“In fact, it has the best preserved LGM archaeological record from any site in the Philippine archipelago. There are not many LGM sites in the Philippines because many are likely submerged underwater when the coastlines and the sea levels were much lower during the LGM,” said Ochoa.

The research has already been released online and will be published by Antiquity, an international archaeology journal, in its October 2022 issue. Ochoa and her colleagues in the same statement then lamented the passing of Kress on August 6.

“The archaeological work in Pilanduk Cave would not have been possible without the previous research of Jonathan Kress, who led the first excavation of the site in 1970. Jonathan passed away on 6 August 2022. The Pilanduk and Ille Cave teams remember him most fondly, especially for his joie de vivre and enthusiasm for field work, stone tools, and molluscs,” said Ochoa.

“He would share and recall the local names of various shell taxa, which were taught to him by the indigenous team he worked with. Engaging with students was important for him and he regaled us with exciting and adventurous stories about Palawan in the 1970s. We remember Jonathan as gentle, kind, patient, and full of wisdom,” she added