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A Powerful Datu Could Have Owned This 2,000-Year-Old Dagger

It was discovered in an ancient burial site in Catanauan, Quezon.
IMAGE NATIONAL MUSEUM
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In 2017, a resident of Catanauan, Quezon Province, stumbled upon a prehistoric burial site replete with rich artifacts, each with the potential to rewrite our understanding of Philippine history. 

One such artifact was an ornate dagger, decorated with a finely carved bone hilt. It was unearthed by archaeologists from the National Museum and the University of the Philippines. The dagger was found beneath human remains stored in a burial jar. 

According to the National Museum, the jar burial practice of Catanauan in Quezon Province involved burying the dead in large earthenware jars along the sandy coasts, with slabs of coraline or volcanic stone covering the vessels. The prehistoric Filipinos interred with the deceased various grave goods, which are believed to either be personal possessions or votive offerings for the afterlife.

“This iron dagger is one of the most remarkable funerary artifacts recovered in 2017? ?from a jar burial site located on a beach facing Marinduque across the waters of the Mompog Pass. It was found under human skeletal remains, along with some green, red, and yellow glass beads?,” wrote the National Museum of the Philippines. 

Surprisingly Detailed Carving


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Photo by National Museum.

The artifact suggests the owners of the blade 2,000 years ago had a very high level of culture. 

According to the National Museum, the dagger’s double-edged metal blade is leaf-shaped, while the finger-fitting grip of the handle is made of layers of bone and organic material, possibly wood, to seemingly form the shape of a boat.

“What is striking about its ornate, asymmetrical handle is the detailed carving that resembles interwoven patterns with tiny holes onto which the glass beads may have been inlaid,” it added. 

Possibly Owned by a Powerful Datu

Photo by National Museum.

Archaeologists from the UP and the National Museum have suggested the Catanauan Dagger belonged to a person who had a high social status, owing to the rarity of the item unearthed and the high level of skill required to make such a weapon. 

“Ethnographic inferences on indigenous societies in the Philippines may tell us of the ownership of these items, which are mostly reserved for people of high status such as chieftains and prominent individuals, serving as symbols of power and grandeur,” wrote the National Museum. 

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“Was the owner of this dagger once a chieftain? Was it functional or purely ceremonial? What could have been its role in the community? These questions can only be addressed through further scientific analysis of the artifact and its archaeological context, which the National Museum of the Philippines exists to support and promote,” it added.


Photo by National Museum.

Catanauan Dagger Belongs to the State

The Catanauan Dagger, as with all archaeological resources found in Philippine territory is, by law, the property of the State and thereby of the Filipino people. 

The National Museum unveiled the Catanauan Dagger to the public on May 18, 2022 in commemoration of International Museum Day. The Philippines is also celebrating Heritage Month in May 2022. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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