This artifact is an earthenware pot with thirty-nine syllabic inscriptions incised around its shoulder, representing one of the oldest surviving writing systems in the country. It measures 12 centimeters in height, 20.2 centimeters in width, with a rim diameter of 14.8 centimeters, and weighing 872 grams. It has a restricted mouth, an everted rim, and an indentation at the center base.
Scholars from different fields within and outside the Philippines have studied and provided varying transliteration and interpretation of the inscriptions. Dr. Rolando Borrinaga, who read the inscriptions in a counterclockwise manner, identified it as an outline of a three-stage monologue in old Visayan language for the precolonial babaylan’s (a shaman and usually female) pag-ulî (return) rite, suggesting the use of the vessel beyond its utilitarian function. An earlier study of Dr. Quintin Oropilla derived the inscriptions from the Pangasinan language, with the texts being a sacrificial prayer. On the other hand, Dr. Ramon Guillermo and Myfel Joseph Paluga, through paleography, cryptography, and ethnohistorical analogy, proposed a Visayan origin of the pot and provided another reading of the Calatagan Pot, which suggested a Javanese influence on some of the scripts. Like Dr. Borrinaga and Dr. Oropilla, their interpretation resonated with the babaylan and precolonial ritual connections of the artifact.
A closer look at the Calatagan Ritual Pot’s incised inscription.
As an important archaeological evidence of the several ancient and extant syllabic scripts of the Philippines, the Calatagan Ritual Pot was declared a National Cultural Treasure in 2010 and presently exhibited at the Baybayin Gallery of National Museum of Anthropology.
Acquired by the National Museum in May 1961, the Calatagan Ritual Pot was a donation from the Research Foundation in Philippine Anthropology and Archaeology, Inc. The latter purchased the artifact from Feliciano Bugtong, a farmer who found it in Talisay, Calatagan, Batangas. The circumstances leading to the pot’s discovery raised issues on its authenticity. It was dated using Accelerated Mass Spectrometry (AMS), through the efforts of the late Ethnoarchaeologist Dr. William Longacre of the University of Arizona, but the results showed a significant discrepancy between the vessel’s interior and exterior ages. Scholars deduced that the inconsistency could have been due to either contamination by a petroleum-based product applied on the artifact when it was replicated, or a particle contamination picked up by the dating equipment. With inconclusive results, the pot was given a relative age range of 14th to 15th century CE based on alleged associated artifacts.
Nevertheless, we will continue to research more on the Calatagan Ritual Pot, including a reexamination of the context and the environment in which it was collected. As we remind the public not to disturb or pillage sites for monetary gain, it is important to keep in mind that a ruined area from wanton excavation destroys its historical footprint and loses forever the evidence to help us tell the story of our nation. Please report immediately to your local government authority or the nearest National Museum facility if you see a suspicious digging around your community. Soon we will set up a citizen science program to help you report more systematically these offenses.