Archaeologists begin excavation of 4th balanghai in Butuan

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BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews/30 May) – Two decades after the first three balanghai boats were dug out, six archaeologists from the Philippine National Museum in Manila, together with personnel from the Regional Museum here, began last week excavation of the fourth ancient boat in the site the previous three were dug back in the 1980s.

A technician from the National Museum carefully cleans the wooden hull of the fourth balanghai boat being excavated in Barangay Libertad, Butuan City on May 29, 3012. Nine of such ancient boats were discovered in the 1970s, but only three were excavated then. MindaNews photo by Erwin MascarinasAs of today, archaeologists have already dug six to seven feet deep at the Ambangan site in Barangay Libertad here, showing about 30 percent of the balanghai.

Alfredo Orogo, a researcher at the National Museum, said they are still doing initial diggings. Work, he added, may last two to three months, but will also depend on the budget.

“Maybe this coming June, there will be another team of researchers who will come and continue the research and excavation,” he added.

Orogo said the plan for the fourth balanghai is to dig around it until it is fully exposed, then let it remain as it is for the Butuanons and the rest of the world to see. “This will be made into a site museum, to become one of Butuan’s tourist attractions,” he added.

Wilfredo Ronquillo, chief archaeologist at the Philippine National Museum, expressed how amazed he and his team are of the rich historic cultural heritage of Butuan.

He noted that there are slight differences in how the fourth balanghai excavated was constructed compared to the previous boats dug more than two decades ago.

“They are not identical, although the general scheme is almost the same. The artistic ways of each boat maker, what we can see here is the skill of our early predecessors. When they made this, there was no blueprint, no plans. It is just amazing,” said Ronquillo.

He added that they hope to open the site, expose the boat, study it using modern technology, measure it and gather all the data that can be generated from it. “Then we will compare it to the other boats here and other parts of Southeast Asia,” Ronquillo said.

Ligaya Lacsina, researcher at the archaeology division of the National Museum, said that comparing the balanghai to boats unearthed in Indonesia and Malaysia showed that ancient Filipino boat makers used similar boat construction techniques with their Southeast Asian neighbors.

“They use the same shell-first boat building technique, with the planks connected edge to edge using wooden dowels,” said Lacsina, who is currently on taking up doctorate study on archaeology in Australia, focusing more on traditional boat building, especially on Southeast Asian boat building traditions.

In the oldest excavation site in Malaysia, she pointed out, the boats were dated around the third and fourth century A.D.

The flotilla of balanghai boats was accidentally discovered by treasure hunters back in 1976. Archaeologists from the National Museum took over the site and discovered nine boats buried in the ground.

From the nine original boats discovered in Barangay Libertad, three were excavated. One is now displayed at a shrine at the excavation site, another is at the Maritime Hall of the National Museum in Manila. The third, which is the most damaged, is being kept by the local branch of the National Museum here in Butuan.

The oldest was dated at 320 AD, the next 900 AD, and the third 1250 AD.

In 1986, the late President Corazon C. Aquino declared the balanghai boats as National Cultural Treasure under Proclamation 86.

Historians say that the discovery of the boats showed that Butuan was once an old sea-fearing kingdom trading with the Srivijayan Empire in Southeast Asia and even as far away as China more than a thousand years ago. (Erwin Mascariñas / MindaNews)

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