An Iron Age in the Philippines? A critical examination

Eusebio Zamora Dizon, University of Pennsylvania


Based on the limited evidence of iron artifacts and the associated pottery, it has been argued that a "Philippine Iron Age" began sometime between ca. 500-200 B.C. This study employing current archaeological and anthropological methods and metallurgical techniques analyzes the evidence for iron in the Philippines. It addresses whether the term "Iron Age" is viable in the Philippine context.^ The appearance of iron in certain areas of the Old World is surveyed to provide information on how iron technology developed and was adopted elsewhere. The presence of an Iron Age can imply a complex social organization which assumes a political machinery and economic institutions that deal with the control, distribution and redistribution of resources. Technology is also a system that operates within this complex whole, providing the science and technical knowledge to manipulate resources for the society.^ Philippine ethnographic and ethnohistorical records document that iron was supplied by Chinese traders in exchange for forest products, gold, salt, beads, etc. and that local blacksmiths processed iron for agriculture and household implements. Surpluses were traded to other groups, promoting the continuous diffusion of iron.^ Ten iron samples from the Philippine National Museum and 75 samples from the Guthe-Michigan collection were examined metallographically. Microhardness testing was done for qualitative and quantitative analysis. Descriptive and exploratory statistics were used to construct a generalized typology.^ The Guthe collection showed variability in morphology, metallurgical treatment and function, projecting a pattern of regional variation among artifact types. The metallography suggested an improvement in iron technology over time. There are no indications of mass or standardized production of iron implements, suggesting local production on a small scale.^ This study concludes that there is no real Iron Age in the Philippines but that there were iron-using societies in certain areas beginning ca. 370 B.C. Finally, the study of iron technology constitutes a mechanism by which an improved understanding of the socio-cultural complexity of pre- and proto-historic cultures in the Philippines and Southeast Asia might be achieved. ^

Subject Area

Anthropology, Archaeology|History, Asia, Australia and Oceania

Recommended Citation

Dizon, Eusebio Zamora, "An Iron Age in the Philippines? A critical examination" (1988). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8816166.