Skip to main content

Philippine Rhinoceros: Rewriting History and Science

Darius is a former high school literary and feature writer with a BS degree in Information and Communications Technology.

Fossilised bones of a rhinoceros philippinensis displayed at the National Museum of Natural History in Manila.

Fossilised bones of a rhinoceros philippinensis displayed at the National Museum of Natural History in Manila.

History Rewritten

Unearthed prehistoric rhinoceros remains were discovered in the Philippines, and it was dated as far back as 700,000 years. Along with these remains are tools made by prehistoric humans. Nothing unusual, except for two facts:

  1. The most recent discovery of the oldest humans, remains and evidence, in the Philippine Archipelago was 67,000 years ago.
  2. Humans weren't supposed to be in the Philippines 709,000 years ago.

The discovery offered a huge jump in the human history timeline.

A prehistoric rhinoceros illustration, endemic in the Philippines.

A prehistoric rhinoceros illustration, endemic in the Philippines.

Discovery of the Ancient Rhinoceros

In 2014, a team of archaeologists unearthed remains of a butchered, prehistoric, and extinct rhinoceros species endemic in the Philippines that had existed hundreds of thousands of years ago in Rizal, Kalinga. But there's more to it than just discovered fossils.

The bones have clear pieces of evidence of cut marks and dents, indicating that the animal was slaughtered by prehistoric humans using sharp stone tools.

The discovery wasn't all that surprising in the world of science and archaeology, until it was dated back to be at least 709,000 years ago—a time where historical textbooks say that humans did not exist in any of the Philippine islands—using dating methods such as electron spin resonance of quartz grains, single crystal 40Ar/39Ar dating, and electron spin resonance uranium-series dating using the enamel of the rhinoceros' tooth.

A 2018 study led by Thomas Ingicco of the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, and Clyde Jago-on and Marian Reyes of the Philippine National Museum pushes back the arrival of the first Homo species on the Philippines between 631,000 and 777,000 years ago in a period known today as Pleistocene.

Changing Histories

Filipino Archaeologist Kathryn Manalo, a former senior lecturer, and researcher of the University of the Philippines Archaeological Program, told local news that the locals who worked for them first said that the thing she first found almost a meter deep was just "rocks."

But she insisted it to be more than just rocks because of its strange shape. The "just rocks" thing unearthed was actually a prehistoric rhinoceros tooth. The team then carefully excavated at least 75% remaining of its bones, including 57 stone tools, as well as two possible hammer stones, near the animal, according to a news release.

Scientists aren’t certain who these early humans were, but they weren’t modern-day Homo sapiens. The study, published in the science journal Nature, was co-authored by Dr. Gerrit van den Bergh, a palaeontologist at the University of Wollongong.

The discovery made a tremendous impact on present historical records of first human settlers that came in the Philippines.

"Previously we have the 67,000-year-old meta tarsal discovered by Dr. Mijares in 2007 and that was evidence of early human occupation in the islands. Now we have evidence of human presence in the Philippines ten times older than previously thought."

Artifacts that are thought to be used by prehistoric humans in Kalinga dating 700,000 years ago.

Artifacts that are thought to be used by prehistoric humans in Kalinga dating 700,000 years ago.

Who Are These Ancient Humans?

According to Manalo, prehistoric rhinoceros are pretty common among the Southeast Asian countries, like Malaysia and Indonesia—specifically the Pleistocene epoch.


The Pleistocene Epoch is typically defined as the time period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. The most recent Ice Age occurred then, as glaciers covered huge parts of the planet Earth.

The prehistoric animals were commonly associated with a human ancestor called the Homo erectus. The bigger question remains, however, if early human fossils are to be found in the same location.

According to Catherine King, a senior researcher of the National Museum who was also with the excavating team, searching for the human remains would be a little harder. She said it is even uncertain if the human remains will be found at all in Kalinga. She also stated that one of her colleagues was right — that early humans are very mobile because they have to move around where food is abundant.

“The only thing missing is the hominin fossil to go along with it,”

Says archaeologist Adam Brumm, of Griffith University in Nathan, Australia. He’s the one who set the odds for what he calls a “very exciting discovery,” but he wasn’t involved with the work.

According to Filipino archaeologist Mylene Lising, who was also with the team that discovered the 709,000-year-old rhino remains, that the search for the early humans is still ongoing. Though there may be seasons where they may found just another "rock", or a jackpot where, perhaps, they may finally found a prehistoric human skull.

Three thousand kilometers to the south, on the island of Flores in Indonesia, archaeologists discovered H. floresiensis, a diminutive archaic human species known as the hobbit. It lived from about 60,000 to 100,000 years ago and seems to have evolved its short stature, large feet, and other distinctive traits because of its long isolation on Flores.

There’s no evidence that the rhino butcherers on Luzon are the ancestors of the hobbit, or connected to those unusual humans in any way. But the discovery of H. floresiensis opened up the possibility that there could be many hitherto unknown human species living and evolving in Southeast Asia.

“In theory you could have something special on every single island,” Ingicco says.

 A breathtaking view of the chapel inside Callao Cave's first chamber. Photo by Reiniel Pasquin.

A breathtaking view of the chapel inside Callao Cave's first chamber. Photo by Reiniel Pasquin.

Homo Erectus: The Best Bet for the New Discovery

Indonesia's Java Man and China's Peking Man are among the Homo erectus discovered in Asia. The Philippines' Callao Man may either belong to Homo sapiens or Homo floresiensis. Palawan's Tabon Man, meanwhile, has been classified as a Homo sapien.

According to national, or even international, textbooks, humans hadn't set foot in the Philippines until around 67,000 years ago. One confirmed archaeological finding of this is the discovery of the uncovered human remains in the Callao Cave, in Cagayan discovered in 2007 called the Callao Man by Filipino archaeologists Armand Mijares and Philip J. Piper and initially identified as modern human by Florent Détroit coined as homo luzonensis.

This predates another discovery of early human settlements in the country from around 47,000 years ago uncovered ancient human remains discovered in the Tabon Caves in Lipuun Point in Quezon, Palawan in the Philippines. These were discovered by Robert B. Fox, an American anthropologist of the National Museum of the Philippines, on May 28, 1962.

Migration of Austronesian peoples and their languages.

Migration of Austronesian peoples and their languages.

Theories About Early Human Migrations and Settlements in the Philippines

Several national and international scientists and researchers have theorised that prehistoric people of the Philippines came from migrating Austronesian people across most part of Asian countries. There have also been theories about original human settlers in the islands and thrived through millions of years of evolution.

Austronesian Languages

The Austronesian languages are a language family widely spoken throughout Maritime Southeast Asia, Madagascar and the islands of the Pacific Ocean. There are also a few speakers in continental Asia. They are spoken by about 386 million people. This makes it the fifth-largest language family by number of speakers.

  1. In 2001, F. Landa Jocano's origins theory (Core Population) contended that the existing fossil evidence of ancient humans demonstrates that they not only migrated to the Philippines, but also to New Guinea, Borneo, and Australia. In reference to Beyer's wave model, he points out that there is no definitive way to determine the "race" of the human fossils; the only certain thing is that the discovery of Tabon Man proves that the Philippines was inhabited as early as 21,000 or 22,000 years ago.
  2. H. Otley Beyer's wave migration theory (Theory of Waves of Migration) suggests land bridges because of the low-level ocean during prehistoric times, as well as the balangay boats that would later be developed to name the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward called Barangay.
  3. The popular contemporary alternative to Beyer's model is Peter Bellwood’s Out-of-Taiwan (OOT) hypothesis, which is based largely on linguistics, hewing very close to Robert Blust’s model of the history of the Austronesian language family, and supplementing it with archeological data.
  4. Solheim's Nusantao Maritime Trading and Communication Network (NMTCN) or island origin theory consisting of both Austronesian and non-Austronesian seafaring peoples, was responsible for the spread of cultural patterns throughout the Asia-Pacific region, not the simple migration proposed by the Out-of-Taiwan hypothesis.

Jocano postulates that present-day Filipinos are products of the long process of evolution and movement of people. He also adds that this is also true of Indonesians and Malaysians, with none among the three peoples being the dominant carrier of culture.

In fact, he suggests that the ancient humans who populated Southeast Asia cannot be categorized under any of these three groups. He thus further suggests that it is not correct to consider Filipino culture as being Malayan in orientation.

News and Resources:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Darius Razzle Paciente


Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on December 14, 2019:

Thanks Umesh!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 13, 2019:

Well researched article. Nice reading. Thanks.