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Boljoon excavation shows gold jewelry, China trade

By Bernadette Parco
Cebu Daily News
First Posted 09:25:00 06/08/2008

No crystal skulls, no alien corpses were found. But the archaeological excavations in Boljoon town, south of Cebu, offer just as interesting—and more realistic—finds on Cebuano culture and tradition.

New discoveries have led to more questions, that need expert study, said Jose Eleazar “Jobers” Bersales, chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the University of San Carlos.

Bersales reported the group’s findings in last Thursday’s lecture held at the Cebu Cathedral Museum that was also attended by Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.

Bersales, an archeologist, said among those unearthed a few meters from the Patrocino de Maria Parish in Boljoon town south of Cebu province were 26 burials, antique ceramic dishes and jars, a necklace of precious stones and one large gold earring.

Even after three phases of excavations that began in February last year, they failed to find the original foundation of the centuries-old church. If found, it would help determine the actual date of the parish’s founding that had been debated by historians.

“Boljoon figures large in the defense against Islamic marauders,” he said on the significance of the parish in Cebuano history. The church was built in 1783 and was renovated during the time of paroko kapitan Julian Bermejo, one of only two priests given the title, Bersales said.

Archaeological finds

“We think this is a Christian burial site,” Bersales said. “Cebu was never Islamized.”

In a separate lecture on the skeletal remains, physical anthropologist and osteologist Bonn Vito Aure said the bones recovered on site were individually identified and sorted.

They determined the gender from the cranial (head) and pelvic forms. Age was determined through dental analysis of the wear and tear of the teeth.

Aure said there were two children—one aged three--three adolescents, seven young adults, seven middle adults and six old adults.

“Eighty percent of the individuals have caries (tooth decay), which indicates that they consumed a starch-rich diet. This means the people were already involved in agriculture,” he said.

Aure also noted the early use of toothpicks and the practice of tooth filing possibly for aesthetic purposes. But this needs further study since teeth filing in other Asian countries like Indonesia is functional to enable people to eat sago, a type of powdery starch.

Pre-Spanish Cebuanos in the town had osteomyelitis or bone infection which usually results from bacterial contamination, abscess or injury, based on the remains found.

Items 500 to 600 years old were dug up.

“This is the first time that gold was excavated,” the archeology professor noted. He cited one large tubular earring worn on the right ear of a male.

A similar sample, dated between the 14th and 16th century, is found in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Gold Collection.

There was also a necklace made from six carnelian gemstones, four red glass beads, six gold spacers and three gold pendants with carvings.

Other unearthed objects:

- Three ceramic dishes made during the time of Chinese Emperor Wan Li, the Zhangzhou period between 1573 and 1620

- two bowls from Anxi kiln in Fujian province in China produced between the 1590s and 1620s.

•A jar of the late Ming Dynasty (1590 and 1620)

Bersales said a similar artifact was recovered from the Dutch East Indies ship, Witte Leeuw, that sank in 1613 while on its way back to Holland.

•Five daggers and spears , some with fiber marks which could be abaca weave or sinamay.

In other excavation sites near the convent, experts unearthed bones of wild pigs and cows, piles of stones, small shells, broken pieces of ceramics and bronze Christian medallions.

Notable archeological facts

Males were also found buried with their hands clasped across their chests. The females were buried with their hands covering their genital area, said Bersales in a separate e-mail.

Two distinct burial positions were noted. Some skeletons showed the head facing the south or oriented north-south. Another group was buried with the head oriented east-west.

The bones did not indicate that those buried were fisherfolk. They were likely traders.

“We have not found net sinkers or shells lining the grave that would be normally expected from burials found near the shore or beach,” Bersales said.

“This is the first time in the history of archeology in the Philippines where the head is covered with two ceramic wares since recorded excavations began in the 1920s,” he added.

Carbon dating of four bone samples sent to to the University of Arizona revealed that the skeletal remains are between 340 and 500 years old.


In a message to lecture participants, Cardinal Vidal said the interest in treasures unearthed in Boljoon is “not only the concern of the academe and the Church. It is everybody’s concern.”

Some of the archaeological finds are on display at the Cebu Cathedral Museum.

“Museums are a source of national pride and national consciousness and it is important for the children to see what it is like to be part of their country,” said Vidal, who opened the exhibit.

Vidal said experts had managed to discover “details of ordinary life” of the Cebuanos’ ancestors.

Other questions have to be resolved, said Bersales, who admitted it would take more than a decade of research at a cost of more than P1 million for archaeologists to fully assess the items discovered in Boljoon.

“Is the area a settlement or a burial site? It could be both, but we found one unit was topsy turvy,” he said.

Bersales also said they have to determine whether the items were from the colonial or pre-colonial period or both.

“When did Boljoon enter the orbit of permanent Augustinian work?” he asked.

“Excavations on the entire are of the church complex are needed, the publication of this book and video production to support the documentation of the findings,” he said.

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Copyright 2008 Cebu Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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