Caceres on 5th Year of collaborating in Bicol Archaeology Project

By Mikhael Ecchavari, Earl John Hernandez and Fr. Eric Bobis


Have you ever wondered about what Bicolanos ate hundreds of years ago? Or how and where they lived?


Bicolanos like Dr. Stephen Acabado from Tinambac, Fr. Eric Bobis of the Archdiocese of Caceres, and an international and local team of researchers have been asking and searching for the answers to these questions with their Bicol Archaeological Project (BAP). They have been researching everyday places like churches, rice fields, and old towns to uncover the untold story of Bicol’s history.


The Archdiocese of Caceres is in its 5th year of collaborating with the Bicol Archaeological Project, an interdisciplinary archaeological and heritage research program launched in 2016 to understand indigenous responses to Spanish colonialism during the early modern period in Bicol. Caceres Archbishop Rolando Tria Tirona, OCD, has given the permission to do research in any Caceres church premises as a way of collaboration to deepen the sense of history of the Bicolanos, enrich our faith and encourage culture of research in anthropology.


The BAP explores a variety of questions about local responses to colonialism, as well as the effects of the colonization process on the environment. We seek to answer these big questions through archaeological excavation and use of state-of-the-art technologies like LiDAR and chemical analysis to provided high-resolution fragments of Bicol history.


Using these means the BAP investigations started at the churches in Quipayo, Camaligan, and Bombon. The project focused on these oldest churches because of their continuous use as gathering places of importance from before Spanish colonization through to the present day. This tells that one can look at how life may have changed through time.


At Camaligan the BAP unearthed a shell midden, where people living there discarded the shells after cooking and eating for 1500 years. These include species locally known as tabagwang and tohoy.


At Quipayo and Bombon, researchers collected numerous pottery sherds that will help understand the everyday life and how connected all these places were.


Deliberate methods of excavation and recovery of materials are necessary to accomplish archaeological investigation.

Some students in Bicol Archaeological (BAP) 2022 Field Season pose with Fr. Charlie Audal in Quipayo Church, Calabanga, Camarines Sur. BAP is a collaborative interdisciplinary project investigating various aspects of early modern period Bicol. University of California in Los Ángeles (UCLA)and Program for Early Modern South East Asia (PEMSEA) led in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Caceres and the Partido State University. (Photo credit: Eric Bobis)


We ask that if you find any archaeological materials, like pottery or bones, report them to your nearest churches or LGU. This will help preserve history of the locals for future generations and for science.


Although the research questions are important, the real goal of the BAP is to promote education, cultural revival, and enchantment with history to help enrich and strengthen Bicolano identity.


The BAP is also interested in using the archaeological knowledge we produce to help local government units or LGU’s in the region to make decisions about climate change, tourism, and establishment of museums that we hope could bring venues to talk about our history and culture.


In its fifth year the BAP is currently expanding beyond church excavations to look at other early communities, including Binanwaanan’s. Investigating the Binanwaanan’s along with the churches will help understand the dynamics of reduccion and encomienda in the region.


Our projects also include collaboration to produce gallery exhibits, and museums at locations such as in Camaligan and an archaeological gallery in the museum of the Archdiocese of Caceres.


BAP is a collaborative program led by the University of California – Los Angeles, the Archdiocese of Caceres, and the Partido State University under the directorship of Dr. Stephen Acabado, Associate Professor of Department of Anthropology and Director of Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California Los Angeles.


(Earl John Hernandez is the Museum Curator of Partido State University.Mikhail Echavarri is from University of Washington, Seattle. Fr. Eric Bobis is the coordinator for the Archdiocese of Caceres. All of them are part of BAP)

On July 3, the team of Bicol Archeological Project- Earl John Hernandez, Maddie Yakal, Fr. Eric Bobis and Mikhael Echavarri -were guests of Manindogan radio program with Myrna Bermudo as host (center). Manindogan is an advocacy program of the Archdiocese of Caceres. It is aired at RMN NAGA DWNX every Sunday at 8:00-9:00 am. (/MB Photo credit: Myrna Bermudo)