The National Museum of the Philippines’ (NMP) #MaritimeMonday under the #MuseumFromHome series recently featured the stone grave marker found in the Earl Temple shipwreck in Thitu Reef, Palawan.
The NMP in a post on Facebook written by Nero Austero late Monday night said headstones or tombstones are engraved stone markers otherwise known as funerary tablets.
They were usually carved from an array of rock types such as sandstone, limestone, marble, slate, granite, gabbro, gneiss, and migmatite. Even today, these markers leave a hint of where the deceased was buried.
The NMP wrote that around 900 BCE (Before the Common Era), some wealthy elites in Greece started creating memorials that would stand in their place after death. Grave markers then became increasingly more elaborate and monumental from 800 BCE to 480 BCE.
Archeological evidence reportedly shows that “funerary objects were a way of displaying social status and win good favor with the gods”.
“Headstones were important indicators of cultural identifications of an ancient society. For instance, headstones in the stronghold of Malacca – present-day Malaysia, and the Island of Fohr in Germany were engraved with renditions of typical Dutch sailing ships with leeboards, demonstrating that the deceased was from a Dutch family who was once a shipmaster. Another tombstone was carved with a sextant, showing that the dead had once commanded a boat,” the NMP said.
According to an archival study, the Earl Temple shipwreck tombstone was owned by Sultan David (1697-1754), who was also known as Baron Sultanum. The stone is 210 cm high, 100 cm wide, and 22 cm thick, and edged with a border of floral motifs.
Its upper surface is carved with two indistinguishable veils or skulls with basic crossbones. Between them is a flack of wreath that encased some scissors, a messier, a couple of balanced scales, a plume pen and an ink well, and six loads arranged pyramidically, which may all be viewed as a reference to the Sultan David’s profession as a merchant, the NMP said.
The Latin inscriptions can be translated as:
citizen Sultan David
of the Armenian nation,
originally from the Persian city of Ispahan;
having reached the age of fifty-seven years,
a famous merchant,
he gave his last day
at Pondicherry the 30th of
Whereas the Armenian inscription can be translated as:
Beneath this tomb rests
The son of Davutkhan, Baron Soolthanoom, of the Armenian
an honorable merchant, born in the country
of Persia in the city of Ispahan. He stayed in this
world for fifty-seven years. He died in fine reputation in
Pondicherry on the 19th September
Of the year 1754.
National Museum said Sultan David was a textile merchant in the 1700s and was the patriarch of a family of Armenian patriots. As a member of the Armenian Apostolic Church, he was allowed to be buried in one of the Pondicherry’s Catholic cemeteries.
During the French-British War in 1761, the British soldiers destroyed the city of Pondicherry. His grave marker was among the stones toppled to the ground. Later that year, the British’s East India Company needed ballast for its merchant’s vessels causing the gravestone to be loaded aboard Earl Temple. In 1763, it run aground in Thitu Reef and remained underwater until it was discovered during an excavation in 1996.
“Archaeological study is very important in supporting the accurate interpretation of past events, which helps in reconstructing our history. When a site is disturbed or pilfered, we lose information forever without the significant context to assist us in piecing together our story. This is much more valuable than the selfish individual’s monetary gain or enriching their personal collections. Our heritage and recounting its narrative through material culture benefits future generations and our aspirations as a nation. If you see or have knowledge of sites being looted, report to your local government authorities immediately or contact the closest NMP office near you,” it said.