This Ancient Dog Burial Site in Manila Proves Filipinos Loved Canines

Filipinos tamed dogs long before they were colonized.
IMAGE Timothy James Vitales, National Museum of the Philippines

More than 800 years ago, long before dog breeds and pedigrees came to the country, pre-colonial Filipinos already loved their indigenous canine companions and even buried them in cemeteries for people. 

Sometime in the 1960s, a site in Sta. Ana, Manila was excavated by archaeologists. The scientists already knew the area was a rich archaeological site because of its strategic location along the Pasig River. In the 11th century, it was the location of an upriver settlement called Sapa, which was ruled by a datu. In the map below, the location of Sapa is shown in a purple circle, which is now Sta. Ana.

Locations of Three Ancient Settlements in Manila


Photo by Presidential Museum and Library.


During the dig, archaeologists expected to find ancient wares and human remains, but they were stunned when they discovered the burial site of ancient Philippine dogs. The archeologists recovered remains of domesticated dogs dating back to the 12th to 15th centuries A.D.


The excavation project led to the discovery of at least 300 ancient human graves. Much of the study in the 1960s focused on these human remains, leaving out the dog remains for future studies.

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It took more than 50 years for that study to happen. In 2018, archaeologists from the National Museum revisited the finds and focused on examining the remains of the ancient dogs, which they theorized were similar to the indigenous dogs today called askals or, in some regions, aso ng gubat, based on the measurements of the prehistoric dogs.


Pre-colonial Filipinos valued their dog companions.

Timothy James Vitales, an archaeologist from the National Museum, published his findings about the precolonial dogs’ graves in the  International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. According to the study, the location and the completeness of the bones “suggest that these dogs were deposited as burials.”

All five dogs examined by Vitales showed no signs of being butchered, indicating that they were kept as companions by ancient Filipinos. It is also curious why they were given a proper burial in a cemetery meant for humans.

According to Vitales, “hounds were given particular importance within the Tagalog community.” It is likely that these dogs were hunting companions who were trained to attack prey, such as wild hogs and deer.

“The fact that these dogs were buried as individuals in a cemetery in close association with people implies the social and cultural significance of these animals to human societies, which are further supported by the ethnographic and ethnohistorical data,” wrote Vitales in his research.

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