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A collection of over 3,000 years old endangered prehistoric engravings Source: Author provided

History Sleuth Explores Cordillera's Little Known 3,500-Year-Old Alab Petroglyphs

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Carved on a boulder resting at Mt. Data of Alab Oriente, Bontoc, Mt. Province is a remarkable plethora of 2 nd millennium BC petroglyphs. The oldest and only kind of engravings that is discovered by far in the Cordillera Administrative Region of the Philippines. One of only two in the whole country with the other engraving, famously known as the Angono-Binganonan Petroglyphs, found in the province of Rizal.

Cultural Significance and Historical Context

The petroglyphs were first discovered by a group of local farmers in the 1950s and then by a lumberman in the 1960s. The same man officially reported such discovery in 1972 for immediate documentation. In total, an estimate of 200 rock carvings were identified after close inspections by experts. They also believed that the petroglyphs were carved not earlier than 1,500 BC. With its suggested age, these remarkable engravings found within ancestral lands serve as proof that the culture and history of Cordillera indigenous tribes can be traced all the way back to the Bronze Age.

The majority of the petroglyphs show geometric designs. (Author provided)

The majority of the petroglyphs show geometric designs. (Author provided)

Further findings suggests that a metallic tool was used to carve the images. Most of the engravings depict anthropomorphism through geometric patterns. The most evident include V- and U-shaped carvings which were associated to sexual organs, bows and arrows, and a human figure with outstretched arms. Some of the V-and U- shaped carvings were called “ Binutbuto” which means “penis-like” in the Bontoc dialect while the rest were said to depict the female genitalia.

 Carvings shaped like V and U, symbolizing sexual organs. (Author provided)

Carvings shaped like V and U, symbolizing sexual organs. (Author provided)

The boulder that the petroglyphs were carved on was then called Binutbuto Rock ever since. As for the bows and arrows, these were associated with hunting. Regarding the human figure with outstretched arms, it is believed to represent either a god or a tribal elder/priest.

Skeptics of the culturally suggested reproductive symbolisms of the petroglyphs theorize that the images are mere copies of livestock footsteps in mud drawn by the community’s ancestors. However, this is heavily disputed by the present-day community and is backed by experts due to the richly preserved culture of the province in which reproductive symbols and other anthropomorphic figures flourish in textiles, arts and crafts, and other tangible heritages are even mentioned in traditional epics and folktales.

More carvings at the Binutbuto Rock. (Author provided)

More carvings at the Binutbuto Rock. (Author provided)

Enigmatic Origins and Theories

The petroglyphs’ iconography leads many to believe that it overall depicts ancient fertility rites and rituals. This is tied to other factors such as the possible ethnographic data of the ancient tribe, the traditional legacy and honor of having children or building a family, and territorial influences. It still remains a confounding mystery as to who made the glyphs and why. Many theories still surround this enigmatic discovery and deciphering them remains a challenge and is close to impossible.

Alab Petroglyphs. (Author provided)

Alab Petroglyphs. (Author provided)

At present, the Alab Petroglyphs are in a fading state. Despite its archaeological and anthropological importance, both tourists and community members have damaged the site by leaving their own mark through vandalism. Stepping over the glyphs is allowed as there is minimal monitoring of activities being done by those who visit and walk around the rock for closer inspections of the engravings.

There has also been no in-depth academic research conducted which further prolongs the curiosities surrounding it.

The Alab Oriente Local Government Unit have already submitted resolutions and proposals to concerned offices for funding of preservation efforts and infrastructure projects such as fencing around the rock to avoid further man-made damages. Other suggestions from concerned individuals were also received such as the use of “environmentally friendly” chemicals and brushing. However, it is communally recognized that proper guidance from experts is needed to avoid irreparable mistakes such as the use of harmful chemicals that may further fade the carvings.

Top image: A collection of over 3,000 years old endangered prehistoric engravings Source: Author provided

By Aya May Dayaoen



Frequently Asked Questions

The Alab Petroglyphs refer to ancient rock carvings found on Binutbuto Rock in Mt. Data, Alab Oriente, Bontoc, Mt. Province, Philippines. They are significant for depicting anthropomorphic figures, geometric patterns, and symbols believed to represent fertility rites and rituals of the Cordillera indigenous tribes.

These petroglyphs date back to the 2nd millennium BC. They are considered one of the oldest and most important archaeological finds in the Cordillera Administrative Region, offering insights into the region's ancient cultural heritage.

AyaMayDayaoen's picture

Aya May

Aya graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Certificate in Professional Teaching. She is currently taking up her Master’s Degree in Community Development. 

She is an editor and a travel writer who is enthusiastic about art, culture, history,... Read More

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