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Classical Gold and Pottery from the Pre-Colonial Period


Before the colonization of the Spain, the people living in the islands now known as the Philippines had a distinct and rich civilization. This can be seen in the treasures that were unearthed from that period. Excavations all over the Philippines have turned up fine pottery and gold pieces in sites such as Batangas and Mindoro in Luzon, Samar in Visayas, and Butuan and Surigao in Mindanao. The technology used in making these artifacts is an enduring evidence of the high level of technology during the pre-colonial period. They are now a national heritage, part of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas' Gold and Pottery Collection.

Since the ancient times, gold has been one of the main products of the islands. Both ancient and modern day goldsmiths exude exquisiteness in their craftsmanship in making pieces for trade or for personal vanity and prestige.

The gold collection of the BSP started with beads and gold pieces that were used as means of exchange during early times. Its pre-Hispanic gold collection also includes "barter rings", hollow gold tubes formed in a circle. These barter rings are bigger then doughnuts in size and are made of nearly pure gold. The BSP also has a sizable collection of excavated glass and semiprecious stone beads, strung into necklaces and other ornaments, patterned after old documents and heirloom jewelry of existing cultural community. The gold belts or waist embellishments, which are also part of the collection, have not been found anywhere else in the world and represent the height of ancient Filipino gold artistry.

Other pieces in the exhibit reveal that Filipinos from a millennium ago sent their dead in spirit boats to the afterworld. The deceased were adorned with "mask" (eyes, nose and mouth covers) usually made of gold sheets. Gold was considered a magical substance and might have been meant to keep in the soul or to keep out evil spirits. The gold partially hides the features of the departed, impressing on the mind of grieving relatives an eternal, incorruptible visage, not of the flesh that will soon become earth. They also made use of a variety of gold coronets, fillets and other hair ornaments in adoring their dead.

Jewelry has always been a symbol of wealth and stature. In this exhibit, it also becomes indicators of development as a culture, a product of Philippine native genius through the ages. Here, jewelry is seen as artifacts set within the elaborate history of man in the Philippines. Personal ornaments in the Philippines are more than just applied decoration and belong to the realm of expressive art, created within the discipline of style and in the context of traditions. Goldworks, are more than momentary creations, they are historical objects, from which we may derive an idea of the economic, social and cultural development of the Philippine people through time.

In Neolithic Philippines, pottery and other objects were made to suit individual household needs. Most palayok (pots) were produced and used for daily cooking activities, though small pots with incision might have been intended as grave furniture. Other forms include pouring vessels, jugs, dishes, vases and native dippers (tabo) Others were made as ornamental ware like goblets, footed dishes, and globular bottles.

The Philippine pottery tradition reached its heights during the Metal Age, from 200 BC to 900 AD, hence the period is also known as the Golden Age of Pottery.

It was that period that early Filipinos went into pottery specialization and experimental with form, design and techniques.

Round-bottomed cylinders were used for liquids or salted food. They were equipped with lashing around the neck for easier transport. Footed trays were used either for the household or to hold produce or for ritual offerings. Other pre-Colonial pottery pieces had rims with perforations to tie through and hold down the ware during firing Large burial jars were made to keep the bones of the deceased, along with other objects such as jewelry and other small earthenwares. They believed that a person does not die completely and that death was just a door that leads to another world. As such, that person would need earthly belongings in that world as well.

These forms were present from the Late Metal Age (200) until the Age of Contact or the Age Interactive Trade with the Great traditions of Asia.



Museum hours: Monday to Saturday 10:00 am to 5:30pm
Gold and Pottery Galleries: Monday - Friday 10:00am to 4:30pm