Sunday, June 23, 2013

Callao Man – Oldest Human Fossil in the Philippines

By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic (Copyright @ 2013 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

This is a scientific fact – the Callao man (still unknown whether a man or a woman), dated early as a 67,000-year-old human fossil based from the discovery of a human third metatarsal from the touristic first chamber of the Callao cave in northern Luzon.

However, the minimum age remains transitory as further scientific examinations and theoretical analysis are ongoing since the prime discoverer, Filipino archaeologist Armand Mijares and his competent team will soon release updated findings to the international scientific community.

Since the first publication of this paleontological and archaeological discovery in the Philippines in the highly esteemed Journal of Human Evolution (2010), Mijares et al placed our country again in the world scientific map which impacts on how we see our country’s and world prehistory.

Hopefully further archaeological research on other samples will help us rethink and rewrite our origins as this will push back our timeline for earliest human settlement and the oldest human fossil found in the Philippines since Robert Fox’s Tabon man (recent evidence shows it as a woman) in Palawan dated 42,000 years ago.

 According to Mijares (2010), direct dating of the specimen using U-series ablation has provided a minimum age estimated 67,000 years ago. Its morphological features, as well as size and shape characteristics, indicate that the Callao metatarsal definitely belong to the genus Homo.

As an anthropologist myself, some important questions that can be probed from this discovery could be the possibility of Homo erectus in the Philippines that will impact waves of migration and peopling in the Philippines. So far in Asia, the Peking man from China and Java man in Indonesia are considered to belong in the genus Homo erectus.

Another “buzz” lately was the discovery of Homo floresiensis on the island of Flores in eastern Indonesia that has highlighted the possibilities of identifying new hominin species on the islands of the region. Interestingly, the recently unearthed fossils in Indonesia are touted as “the hobbit” for its midget sizes, perhaps caused by dwarfism and isolationism. Could this be possible also in the case of the Callao man as he may have also suffered a genetic drift during the migration process?

Well, let’s find out later on what will the competent team of Mijares says on this as they are preparing for new findings about the Callao man. Let’s wait until the newest publication will be released in due time.

Just as when the academic community in the country felt in awe of the real score of the discovery, I was also mesmerized of the oldest human fossil excavated in my home province in Cagayan and being a staunch advocate of informed Philippine prehistory.

In 2011, when the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) boldly reformed the composition of the Academic Board from consultant academics to permanent faculty members, being a newly tenured faculty of the College, I handled the Socio-Cultural Dimension of National Security.

In my view, given the maximum academic freedom to design my own module, I asked the Academic Board to include Philippine prehistory in my course, in my mission to dispel distorted views about our origins supported by scientific and archaeological discoveries to be interpreted later on by anthropologists and historians to immerse our graduate students to the importance of the past.

This is for elite military officers, senior government officials, and captains of the ship from private firms to critically know and understand better of our pre-historical facts in the context of my intense advocacy to reconstruct our strong identity as Filipinos and confidently pave our way to infrastructures of stronger nationhood. 

I immediately thought of inviting Dr Armand Mijares to lecture in my module because of his scientific breakthrough discovery. If Tabon man was discovered by an American archaeologist Robert Fox, Callao man is ably associated with Filipino archaeologist Armand Mijares, currently the director of the UP Archaeological Studies Program.

For the first time the NDCP welcomed an archaeologist in its august classroom. Some colleagues of mine were asking me what does an archaeologist doing in the premiere academic institution for defense and security. Definitely I convinced them of my good intent. The military students even tried to grill professor Mijares’s theoretical assumptions and archaeological fieldwork but in the end were awestruck with his discovery.

“He’s the Filipino Indiana Jones!” some of my senior graduate students from the government sector said after listening to his lecture. He already lectured twice in my module for two regular classes and hopefully he will do the same lectures for future regular classes upon my invitation.

In my initiative to get a wider audience for his discovery and return the full knowledge to my home province where the metatarsal was found, I thought of inviting again Mandy, as some would call Dr Mijares, to lecture his Callao man in front of Honorable Vice President Jejomar Binay at Coconut Palace in a forum set up.

As a Board of Trustee and Head of Research of the Ibanag Heritage Foundation Incorporated (IHFI) with VP Binay as our Chairman, I asked Commodore Artemio Arugay, the Executive Director of our said foundation to consider a talk on the Callao man.

In our brainstorming during one of our board meetings, we decided to include a slot for Dr Mijares, to present his latest findings (with limited facts because of a secrecy contract he signed with the influential science magazine), as we launched the first Council of Elders meeting of the foundation on December 27, 2012 which was also attended by Honorable Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

After that, it was made known to us that indeed the oldest man in the country is found in Cagayan Valley. That made it so exciting for myriad of peoples in my region since VP Binay, a prominent Ibanag himself and has a soft heart for education and scientific discoveries is expected to help us in propagating this knowledge.

I remember Commodore Arugay texting me one time to ask for the contact number of Mandy. The Department of Tourism Region II through Director Blessida Diwa would want to mount an exhibit that will highlight the Callao man for a national tourism fair at SMX in Pasay City.

I thought that this is the beginning of spreading the good tidings. In most of my conversations with Commodore Arugay and some trustees of the board in IHFI, we are trying to convince the provincial board members in Cagayan and even the Congress through our progressive Honorable Representative Randy Ting to craft a board resolution or a bill that will legitimize the recognition of the Callao man as the oldest human fossil in the country.

I know there are more things to be done. As an academic and a board of trustee of our Ibanag heritage foundation, this is what I can do most to articulate a strong study on our country’s prehistory and gain national consciousness of our great ancestors.

In one of my papers, I have argued that the discovery of earliest hominid in the country showcases that we have much older beginnings and culture compared to some of our neighbors in the region. It also elucidates our concept of our national identity as a Filipino people. Our ancestors etched the path of our earliest beliefs, philosophies, and way of life. As recourse Philippine history should be rewritten in pursuit of a stronger national character and higher morale.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Congrats Prof Cabalza for doing something for our country. Your wide network and academic background will help many Filipinos to have more confidence to foster a stronger nationality identity. We are so proud of you sir Chester. Keep it up Idol!