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The Ifugao Rice Terraces May Not Be 2,000 Years Old After All

The Ifugao Rice Terraces could be younger than some old churches.
IMAGE GIOVANNI G. NAVATA/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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For generations, Filipinos have been made to believe that the rice terraces created by the Ifugaos were at least 2,000 years old. Until recently, no one has questioned this assumption, which found its way into textbooks despite not having a shred of evidence supporting the claim.

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Another misleading claim about the Ifugao Rice Terraces is that they were allegedly built by the “second wave” of Malays who traveled by sea to the Philippines and settled in the mountains. This claim is based on the equally questionable Wave Migration Theory (the story about how the Negritos, Indones, and Malay populated the islands) popularized by American anthropologist Henry Otley Beyer.

Ifugao Rice Terraces as UNESCO Heritage Site

In 1995, the Banaue Rice Terraces was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and regarded as a perfect example of a precolonial relic predating the Spaniards’ arrival in the archipelago by 2,000 years. 

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That claim was challenged by the Ifugao Archaeological Project, which suggested in 2015 the rice terraces were in fact, a result of Spanish colonization. 

The Ifugao Rice Terraces’ Real Age

According to the Ifugao Archaeological Project, the rice terraces could be 300 to 400 years old and were built in the 1600s to 1700s. That means some colonial-period churches in the Philippines could be older than the terraces, like Manila’s San Agustin Church built in 1607. 

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The estimates were based on radiocarbon-dating and analysis of paleoethnobotanical remains found in the rice terraces. 

According to archaeologists working on the Ifugao Archaeological Project, the Cordillerans did have terraces of taro instead of rice prior to 1650.

But when the Spaniards began implementing the Reduccion, a process of rounding up locals and establishing towns that centered on a parish, whole barangays who lived in the lowlands fled to the mountains to escape the new system of government being enforced. These former lowland dwellers, who were accustomed to eating cultivating rice (not taro), are believed to have created the rice terraces. 

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Where the 2,000-Year Dating of the Banaue Rice Terraces Originated

The claim that the Ifugao Rice Terraces are 2,000 years old came from anthropologists Henry Otley Beyer and Roy F. Barton, who, incidentally, were pioneering historians of the Philippines. Their work became the basis of the thousands of textbooks that repeated their unfounded claims that the Ifugao Rice Terraces were 2,000 years old. 

Ifugao Archeological Project director Stephen Acabado refutes that claim. 

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“The 2,000-year dating of Beyer and Barton were not based on any archaeological or scientific evidence. They came up with their estimate by speculating how long it would have taken the Ifugao to construct the terraces. It was also a product of the prevailing model of population and technological movement of their time,” Acabado told Rappler

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The academic publications of the Ifugao Archaeological Project have been peer-reviewed by archaeologists and scientists around the world. 

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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