Left photo shows Dr. Janine Ochoa inside Pilanduk Cave in Quezon municipality, Southern Palawan. (Photo from Pilanduk Cave Archeologists Team via UPDate Online of UP Diliman) Right photo shows Dr. Ochoa's photo of the tiger foot bone recovered during the October 2016 excavation.

Filipino archeologists recently discovered traces of human and fossilized animal bones believed to be from the “Last Ice Age” between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago inside the Pilanduk Cave in Barangay Maasin in the Southern Palawan town of Quezon.

They were from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman and the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP), with leaders and members of the indigenous Palaw’an community in the area, according to an UPDate Online post on September 12 of the Diliman Information Office under Mariamme Jadloc.

Dr. Janine Ochoa, UP Diliman archeologist and assistant professor of anthropology, told the university information office via email that they discovered “evidence for specialized deer hunting and freshwater mollusc foraging, LGM fossils for the tiger, and remains of other Palawan native mammal and reptile fauna.”

Pilanduk Cave is regarded as a significant late Pleistocene archaeological site that is a portion of the Palaw’an community’s ancestral domain in Maasin, Quezon municipality, south of the province, as evidenced by Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title No. RO4-QUE-O110-143.

The discoveries and new data from the re-excavation of Pilanduk Cave were part of the research “Tropical island adaptations in Southeast Asia during the Last Glacial Maximum: evidence from Palawan” carried out from 2016 to 2020.

Ochoa is co-principal investigator and lead author of the research article with also co-principal investigator Dr. Ame Garong of the National Museum.

With the help of new radiocarbon dates, Ochoa said it has been determined that humans first inhabited Pilanduk Cave between 20,000 and 25,000 years ago, during the LGM/Last Ice Age.

Additionally, there was “evidence for shifting foraging behaviors (ecological and behavioral flexibility) of modern humans occupying changing tropical environments over the course of about 40,000 years on Palawan Island.”

“We conducted the analysis of the archaeological material (vertebrate fossils, mollusc/shell remains, lithics/stone tools) from 2017 up to 2020,” Ochoa told the UPDate Online.

Ochoa also noted how well-preserved the cave was, sustaining artifacts and other remnants of people and animals living there in the past. “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.”

Ochoa and her team dug up Pilanduk Cave again to add to the research that Jonathan Kress and the National Museum had done in 1969 and 1970.

In 1969, Kress collected assemblages of two ceramics from Pilanduk Cave and Sa’gung Rockshelter in the municipality, which contain late-Palaeolethic remains in the lower strata.

“There has been a need 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,” said Ochoa.

Kress died on August 6, 2022. He was the first archaeologist to study Pilanduk Cave in the 1970s.

His colleagues, including Ochoa, said without his previous research in Pilanduk Cave, their “archeological work would not have been possible.”

“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. 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,” they said.

The research was released in the international archaeology journal Antiquity by Cambridge University Press and made available online. It will appear in the issue from October 2022 and can be seen at https://www.doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2022.88.

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