Law Innovations (Philippines)

Updates in Philippine law, upgrades for the Filipino lawyer

67,000 Year-Old Callao Man & the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009

Posted by Oli Reyes on August 2, 2010

Speaking as one with a keen personal interest in human evolution and Philippine prehistory, I am tremendously excited by the discovery of what apparently are the oldest human remains ever found in the Philippines – the Callao Man, which at 67,000 years, predates Tabon Man by around 17,000 years. The discovery was made back in 2007, following an archaeological excavation of the Callao Caves in Cagayan Province led by Dr. Armando Mijares of the Archaeological Studies Program at UP Diliman. Callao Man consists of a single bone (the third metatarsal of the foot), yet it has been identified as a human, and there even is speculation that it might be of a pre-modern human species which if confirmed, will rewrite the story of evolution. Nonetheless, the Callao Man discovery is archaeologically significant not only because it is the oldest human remains in the Philippines (ang Unang Pinoy!), but also it lends credence to the theory that as far back as 67,000 years ago, humans were already capable of travelling long distances by sea, with no visible land masses in sight.

Though Callao Man was discovered back in 2007, it is the first significant archaelogical discovery in the Philippines since the enactment last December of the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 (available for download from NCCA website, PDF format). The law was designed to conserve our nation’s cultural heritage by imposing protections on our cultural property. Interestingly, the language of the law does not contain any specific reference to human remains as among those objects which may be classified as cultural property, perhaps a sign that the legislators were queasy about the subject. In Civil Code conception, human remains are considered as property, and it is the immediate family members who control the interment or disposition of the body; while under the Organ Donation Act of 1991, it also is an immediate family member or guardian who is capacitated to donate an organ of a decedent who left no express wishes on that matter. Under Sec. 33 of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997, indigenous cultural communities or peoples have the right to repatriation of human remains, and it is possible that this right may soon come to clash with scientific examination of ancient human remains, similar to the dispute over Spirit Cave Man in Nevada.

Nonetheless, there is a catch-all provision under the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009, as it classifies as part of cultural property “natural history specimens”. (See Secs. 3[o] and [dd]) Section 17also empowers the National Museum to develop its national reference collection of Philippine fauna through field collection of specimens. Biologically, humans are considered as animals, therefore fauna; notwithstanding the unique attribute of self-awareness that may distinguish us from other animals. Perhaps in a society like ours where widespread acceptance of Darwinian evolution has yet to take root, the classification of humans as just another fauna and of human remains as among other natural history specimens may be jarring.

Who owns Callao Man? Under Section 30(a)(1), all cultural property found in terrestial archaeological sites belong to the State. Should the Callao Man remains be classified as tangible cultural property, given its historical, anthropological, archaeological value (See Sec. 3[dd]), it will automatically be considered as Important Cultural Property under Section 5(c), given its status as an “archaeological material”. As Important Cultural Property, it may receive government funding for its protection and restoration (See Sec. 7) Given though the high national significance of Callao Man to the understanding of our nation’s history, it warrants classification as a National Cultural Treasure as defined under Section 3(bb), following the procedure under Section 8. If the Callao Man remains were classified as a National Cultural Treasure, it receives, among other privileges, priority government funding for protection and conservation and priority protection in times of armed conflict or natural disasters (See Sec. 7). The National Museum will also be given the right of first refusal in the sale of national cultural treasures. (See Sec. 9) In any event, no cultural property is allowed to be sold, resold, or taken out of the country without prior clearance from the cultural agency concerned (See Sec. 11), which in the case of Callao Man, is the National Museum.

Another provision of the National Cultural Heritage Act which would concern the Callao Man discovery is Section 30, which mandates that the National Museum regulate and control all archaeological excavation and exploration in the Philippines. Any archaeological exploration or excavation for the purpose of obtaining materials and data of cultural value must have the written authority and direct site supervision by archaeologists or representatives of the National Museum. Of specific application to the Callao Man dig site is Section 30(a)(5), which requires the archaeologists and experts of the National Museum to exercise direct jurisdiction and supervision of explorations in caves or rock shelters which “may have been used in the prehistoric past by man either for habitation, religious and/or sacred and burial purposes all over the country.” Considering that the Callao Man discovery was made in 2007, before the passage of the National Cultural Heritage Act, it is unclear whether the National Museum had exercised such supervision and control at that time, though they did participate in the dig.

Expect Callao Man to find its way in school textbooks soon, especially since Section 39(b) of the National Cultural Heritage Act requires the Department of Education, the TESDA and the Commission on Higher Education to include cultural heritage education programs in the curriculum, including instructional materials on the cultural and historical significance of cultural properties. For me, the most enduring potential good that Callao Man could contribute is an increased sense of nationhood and national identity. Discoveries like Callao Man help demystify our prehistory and opens the possibility of an older and more varied society extant in the Philippines just around the same time as in other parts of the world.


One Response to “67,000 Year-Old Callao Man & the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009”

  1. Rikuju said

    Oh please they found a foot and there assuming they are Negrito what a full load of crap how the hell?!! can they tell by just looking at a foot fossil?.

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