The peopling of the Philippines: theories, literature, evidence

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General theory on the geological emergence of the Philippine islands

There are actually several theories on how the various geological (including tectonic and climatic) forces resulted in the emergence and shaping of the Philippine islands, as well as the time scales involved. These theories agree on some key aspects and conflict on others. For detailed explanation about particular theories and their ramifications, see: Geological development of the Philippine islands.

In general terms, however, currently there is just one comprehensive scientific theory that organizes much of the available geological evidence into one integrated whole. This theory is based on plate tectonics.

Fundamental role of plate tectonics

On vast time scales of millions of years, it is now well-established that tectonic plate movements shaped much of the geological structure that created and now underlies the Philippines. The plate tectonic reconstructions of SEARG [1] show these movements in an animated visual way that is easily understood by most people.

Sea 2001 5Ma-300x207.gif

Most geological experts are now agreed that the structure underlying the bulk of the country -- the Philippine Mobile Belt (PMB) sometimes simply called the Philippine Plate -- was created by the gradual convergence of the Philippine Sea Plate (itself just the western margin of the much bigger Pacific Plate domain) to the east, the Eurasian Plate (particularly its Sunda Block) to the west, and the Indo-Australian Plate to the south.

Eurasia-Pacific tectonic plates.png

Effect of other geological forces

On relatively shorter time scales of a million years or less, tectonic plate movements have a less dramatic impact on the configuration of the emergent archipelago. Meanwhile, on such scales, volcanism, subsidence and uplifting, and major climate changes continue to reshape particular island arcs, "land bridges", and mountain ranges whether now submerged or above sea level.

In that context, the continued movement and reshaping of the Philippine land forms on finer scales, vis-a-vis the Eurasian land mass and neighboring island arcs, have greatly affected the pattern of how the country was eventually populated by our hominin (proto-human and later fully human) ancestors after the first founding populations arrived and settled the land.

Various theories on the peopling of the Philippines have been proposed, elaborated, and criticized accordingly.


Theories on the peopling of the Philippines

Arrival or emergence of early hominin (pre-Austronesian) populations

  • Prevailing theories on the earliest peopling of Southeast Asia
  • Homo-related artifacts in Kalinga ca. 700 Kya
  • Homo luzonensis and related discoveries in archaeological sites (Callao, Tabon)

Austronesian migrations theory

  • Bellwood and Blust's "out of Taiwan" (aka "express train") theory of Austronesian migrations
  • Oppenheimer's "out of Wallacea" (aka "slow boat") theory of Austronesian migrations
  • Solheim's Nusantao variation: Pre-Austronesian origins somewhere in Indochina, spread to Island Southeast Asia and further development into Austronesian.
  • Basic archaeological, linguistic and other evidence and related arguments in support of either theory

Figure. Map showing two main alternative views of Austronesian origins, on-shore and off-shore. The oldest view represented by Meacham (solid triangle), Terrell and Solheim (interrupted solid black line and circle) argues an Island Southeast Asian homeland (>5,000 BCE). The ‘out of Taiwan’ view of a recent rapid migration from China via Taiwan (3,000–4,000 BC), spreading to replace the older populations of Indonesia after 2,000 BC, is shown as a finer dotted line. (Source: Oppenheimer 2003.)

Different models of Austronesian migration 2.png

Figure. Simplified map showing the general routes of "two major waves of Austronesian migration"

Austronesian migration models.JPG

Earlier theories

  • Otley H. Beyer's "three or four migration waves" (also known as "multiple homelands") theory
  • F. Landa Jocano's "core population" theory

Literature on prehistoric and pre-Hispanic periods

Evidence from archaeology, genomics, and linguistics


On pre-Austronesian hominins

On the Austronesians