Southeast Asian Archaeology Lab

The Southeast Asian Archaeology Laboratory at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA focuses on the archaeology of culture-contact in the Philippines.  In the last three years, work in the laboratory helped argue for the late inception of the Ifugao rice terraces (UNESCO World Heritage Site in the northern Philippines).  Once thought to be at least 2,000 years old, findings of the Ifugao Archaeological Project (IAP) indicate that the rice terraces were constructed as economic and political responses to colonialism.

Scholars have suggested that the Spanish conquest of the Magat River Valley urged the Ifugao to strategically resettle in the Philippine Cordillera Mountains between AD 1600 and 1700. Shortly after, the Ifugao adopted wet-rice agriculture and built extensive rice terraces in the Cordillera mountains. This agricultural movement established a ranked society that awarded political power to individuals skilled in mobilizing the community. 

To support our contention that the shift to wet-rice cultivation was the foundation of a successful resistance to colonialism, graduate student Queeny Lapeña is looking at ritually-significant fauna in the archaeological record.  She contends that domesticated animals, particularly pigs, are important in ritual feasting, politics, and social stratification. She hypothesizes that the demand for domesticated pigs increased as the Ifugao’s prestige economy expanded during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines.

She further argues that domesticated pigs were entangled in the maintenance of the ranked social order that emerged from Ifugao’s resistance against Spanish colonialism. Although there are endemic wild pigs (Sus philippensis) in the Cordilleras, contemporary Ifugao groups strictly utilize domesticated pigs for rituals. To investigate the emergence of this practice, we brought back samples of pig teeth to the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology for further analysis. She is currently gathering morphometric data from pig dentition to identify wild versus domesticated pigs. This analysis will help determine if there are any temporal shifts in the distribution of these animals. We suspect that in the archaeological record, the frequency of domesticated pigs is higher in layers dated to the Spanish period.

Madeleine Yakal, another graduate student, is contributing to this research program by looking at beads recovered from the infant burials in the Old Kiyyangan Village (OKV), Ifugao. Yakal looks at the development of cultural complexity and elite formation through long-distance trade and interaction. In Ifugao, she observed that Ifugao mortuary practice involve beads as burial goods.  Her analysis shows that majority of the beads from OKV were imported, possibly brought by Chinese traders to the Philippines between 600 to 300 years ago. 

The lab is directed by Stephen Acabado. His work, together with the investigations by Queeny Lapeña and Madeleine Yakal, forces the rethinking of dominant historical narratives in the Philippines, particularly on the misconception that indigenous peoples were passive observers during the colonization process. We hope that the research program not only help rethink history, we are also hopeful that are work promote heritage conservation.