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Philippine jade artifacts, made from white and green nephrite and dating as far back as 2000–1500 BC, have been discovered at a number of archeological excavations in the Philippines since the 1930s. The artifacts have been both tools like chisels, and ornaments such as lingling-o earrings, bracelets and beads.

Tens of thousands[verification needed] of exquisitely crafted jade artifacts found at a site in Batangas province have led scholars to conclude that the Philippines had a significant "jade culture" before the archipelago's metal age.[1][2]


Nephrite, otherwise known as jade, is a mineral widely used throughout Asia as ornaments or for decorative purposes. The oldest jade artefacts in Asia (6000 BC) were found in China where they were used as the primary hardstone of Chinese sculpture. In 3000 BC, jade production in the Hongshan and Liangzhu cultures of China reached its peak. During this period, the knowledge of jade craftsmanship spread across the sea to Taiwan and eventually to the Philippines. The artefacts discovered in several sites in the Philippines were made from nephrite. Nephrite excavated in the Philippines were of two types: white nephrite and green nephrite.[3]

Imported jade from Taiwan sparked artistic and technological innovations during the first millennium AD in the Philippines. The jade trade between the two countries lasted for at least 1,500 years, from 500 BC to 1000 AD. Eventually, native Filipino artisans added a great amount of styles and techniques to the international jade industry. These skills and styles reached other parts of the world such as New Zealand.[3]

Nephrite jade artifacts in the PhilippinesEdit

Excavations in the Philippines have yielded an extensive amount of nephrite artefacts. The first were discovered during the 1930s and 1940s, through the work of H. Otley Beyer. His excavations at sites in the Rizal, Quezon, Batangas, Bulacan and Laguna provinces have yielded thousands of white nephrite chisels and adzes. Most of these artefacts are kept in the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila.

During the 1960s and 1970s, excavations made by Robert Fox at the Tabon Caves complex in northern Palawan and other nearby sites uncovered about 350 green nephrite ornaments including lingling-o (or omega-shaped) earrings, bracelets and beads.

More sites that yielded nephrite artefacts have been excavated since then. White nephrite artefacts were discovered at several sites including Baha and Ulilang Bundok in Calatagan, Ille Rock shelter in northern Palawan and the Siargao island in Surigao del Norte. Green nephrite artefacts were also uncovered at sites in Cagayan Valley, Cagayan, Isabela, Batangas, Masbate Island, Sorsogon and Central Palawan.

In 2004, an Anaro nephrite workshop was discovered by Peter Bellwood and Eusebio Dizon at Itbayat Island in Batanes. Several green nephrite artefacts such as adzes, ornaments and fragments were found at the Anaro workshop, as well as sites on the neighbouring islands of Sunget and Savidug. The site is believed to be where nephrite tools and ornaments were manufactured, hence the name.[4]

Origin of nephrite artefactsEdit

Metal lingling-o earrings from Luzon

The oldest green nephrite artifact is a pair of bracelets recovered from the base of Nagsabaran in the Cagayan Valley.[5] The mineral composition of these artefacts are consistent with that of Fengtian nephrite and have been dated to be around 3,500–4,000 years old.[6]

The Out-of-Taiwan theory suggests that Austronesian-speaking people from South China started to migrate to the Philippines in 2000 BC. The first wave of migrants may have landed in the main island of Luzon or Batanes.[7] Although it is not known whether nephrite was brought here by the settlers initially or was introduced through trade between the northern Philippines and Taiwan an increase in nephrite trade between the two occurred sometime around 1000 BC. It is certain however that nephrite trade ceased and the reworking and reusing of nephrite tools have led to later artifacts being smaller.[8]

Lingling-o ear ornaments with lotus-bud projections were used between 300 BC and 100 AD. They were distinct in such a way that it was designed to appeal to southern markets. It reached Palawan, southern Vietnam and the Niah Caves of Sarawak, east Malaysia. Similar lingling-o that has not been tested for origin yet, were also found in Thailand and Cambodia. These were presumably of Philippine manufacture although the jade came from Taiwan; this is evidenced by the fact that the people from southern Vietnam and Filipinos are speakers of Austronesian languages. Both were also part of a huge trade network when Southeast Asia traded with countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, India and southern China about 2,000 years ago.[7]

Mineralogical analysisEdit

Nephrite is a rare mineral in that it is formed under unique geological conditions. There are only 120 known deposits of nephrite in the world. The two types of nephrite uncovered in the Philippines have been analysed to determine the deposit from where they originated. Green nephrite is described as being translucent green with black inclusions. Analysis of the green nephrite artefacts in the Philippines has shown that it is composed of tremolite-actinolite amphiboles with zinc-bearing chromite inclusions,[9] characteristic of Fengtian nephrite whose major deposits are found in Fengtian, Tianwei Township, Taiwan.[4] The only exception is a green adze fragment found in the Tinokod Cave in Occidental Mindoro, the source of which remains unknown[3]

White nephrite is milky in appearance and may have reddish-brown, black or green bands. Its composition is of tremolitic amphibole. The raw material used has a higher oxygen isotope ratio than all other sources of white nephrite in East Asia.[3] This has led archaeologists to believe that the white nephrite artefacts are from local deposit in the Philippines. Unfortunately, the location of this deposit has not yet been discovered.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Scott, William (1984). Prehispanic Source Material. p. 17.
  2. ^ Bellwood, Peter (2011). Pathos of Origin. pp. 31–41.
  3. ^ a b c d Bellwood, Peter, Hsiao-Chun Hung, and Yoshiyuki Iizuka. "Taiwan Jade in the Philippines: 3,000 Years of Trade and Long-distance Interaction." Paths of Origins: The Austronesian Heritage in the Collections of the National Museum of the Philippines, the Museum Nasional Indonesia, and the Netherlands Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (2011): 31-41.
  4. ^ a b Bellwood, P. & Dizon, E. 4000 years of migration and cultural exchange : the archaeology of the Batanes Islands, Northern Philippines / edited by Peter Bellwood and Eusebio Dizon. (2013) Australia:ANU E Press
  5. ^ Jocano, F. Landa. "Philippine prehistory." Philippine Center for Advanced Studies. Diliman, Quezon City (1975)
  6. ^ Bellwood ,P. (2011). "Holocene population history in the Pacific region as a model for worldwide food producer dispersals". Current Anthropology Vol. 54 no. S4, The origins of Agriculture: New Data, New Ideas, USA: University of Chicago Press
  7. ^ a b Bellwood, P.(2004) "The Origins and Dispersals of Agricultural Communities in Southeast Asia" in P. Bellwood, I. Glover (eds) Southeast Asia: From Prehistory to History, pp.21-40, Routledge
  8. ^ Solheim II, W. (1953). "Philippine Archaeology". Archeology Vol. 6, No. 3. pp. 154-158. USA: Archaeological Institute of America
  9. ^ Iizuka, Yoshiyuki, H. C. Hung, and Peter Bellwood. "A Noninvasive Mineralogical Study of Nephrite Artifacts from the Philippines and Surroundings: The Distribution of Taiwan Nephrite and the Implications for the Island Southeast Asian Archaeology." Scientific Research on the Sculptural Arts of Asia (2007): 12-19.