Ancient pre-Hispanic boat unearthed

‘Centuries-old fourth Balanghai boat excavated in Butuan City

Text and photos by Erwin Mascarinas, · Thursday, May 31, 2012 · 3:32 pm

A museum technician of the National Museum cleans parts of the wooden plank of the boat to remove mud during the archeological excavation of the fourth Balanghai Boat in Barangay Libertad in Butuan City. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas,

“BUTUAN CITY—Two decades after the first three centuries-old Balanghai boats, or ancient wooden watercraft, were dug out, six archaeologists from the Philippine National Museum in Manila together with personnel from the Regional Museum here have excavated the fourth Balanghai boat where the previous three boats were dug back in the 1980′s at the Ambangan site in Barangay Libertad.

Wilfredo Ronquillo, Chief Archaeologist of Philippine National Museum expressed how impressed he and his team are of the rich historic cultural heritage of Butuan.

Ronquillo said, “The people who have been studying these kinds of technology saw that there are slight differences in how it was constructed compared to the previous boats dug here. They are not identical, although the general scheme is almost the same. The artistic ways of each boat maker, the skill of our early predecessors are what we see here. When they made this, there was no blue print, no plans. It’s amazing.”

Workers continue to dig on the excavation site of the fourth Balanghai boat. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas,

The chief archaeologist added that they hope to open the site, expose the boat, study, measure, and extract all data that can be generated from it and in comparison with the other boats of South-East Asia.

Ligaya Lacsina, Museum Researcher 1 of the Archaeology Division of the National Museum explained, “It is interesting because compared to excavated Indonesian and Malaysian boats, they have points that show similar boat construction techniques. They use the same shell-first boat building, with the planks connected edge to edge using the wooden dowels. And they are lashed with the dugs to flexible rids. They just lashed it with fibers, nails are not used.”

Lacsima who is currently studying for her doctorate degree on archaeology in Australia is doing research studies on traditional boat-building especially on South East Asian boat-building traditions.

She pointed out that compared to those discovered on the oldest site found in Malaysia, which dates around third or fourth century AD, there is only a slight difference between the two regarding their construction because there are indications that the fourth Balanghai’s creators also used the sewing technology.  One major difference she observed is that they use edge-pegging of the planks together with sewing.

Alfredo Orogo, National Museum Researcher suggested that the work being done at the moment is just an initial digging and it might take two to three months, depending on the budget.

Orogo added, “Maybe this coming June, there will be another team of researcher who will come and continue the research and excavation. The plan for the Balangay 4 is to let it remain after exposing.  This will be made into a site museum and become one of Butuan City’s tourist destinations.”

The flotilla of the Balanghai Boats was accidentally discovered by treasure hunters back in 1976 after which archaeologists from the National Museum took over the site and recorded nine boats buried in the ground.

From the nine original boats discovered in Barangay Libertad, Balanghais 1, 2, and 5 were dug up. Balanghai 1 is dated back to 320 AD, Boat 2 to 1250 AD, and Boat 5 to around 900 AD. Balanghai Boats 1,2 and 5 were declared back in March 9, 1986 as National Cultural Treasures under Proclamation 86 by the late President Cory Aquino. Boat 2 is now on display at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila. While Boat 5, which has the most intact structure, is displayed at the National Museum site in Barangay Libertad in Butuan City.

An archeologist from the National Museum inspects a broken pottery found beside the wooden remains of the boat—proof of a thriving civilization long before the Spanish colonizers arrived in the Philippines. Photo by Erwin Mascarinas,

The discovery of the boats sealed the claim that Butuan City was once a seafaring community trading with Srivijayan Empire in Southeast Asia and China as early as 10th century AD. So far, shards of pottery also found in the fourth Balanghai boat site further indicate the thriving civilization in Butuan, and the Philippines in general, long before the arrival of Spanish colonizers. The Balanghai Boats are also referred to as Butuan boats.”



1 thought on “Ancient pre-Hispanic boat unearthed

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