A National Cultural Treasure Revisited – Re-assessing the ‘Balangay’ Boat Discoveries

Dublin Core


A National Cultural Treasure Revisited – Re-assessing the ‘Balangay’ Boat Discoveries


Session 4
The archaeological study of ships’ cargo, hull, and maritime infrastructure


The discovery of the balangay boats in the Butuan area of Northern Mindanao was arguably the most important find in pre-colonial maritime archaeology throughout island South East Asia. This class of vessel was well known from the accounts of early Spanish visitors to the Philippines, such as the Pigafetta journal of Magellan’s voyage, but no extent examples had been located until the 1970s. As a by-product of an organised excavation of a settlement at the mouth of the Agusan River, a wave of illegal pot-hunting began in the Butuan area. As these ships had no commercial value they were reported to the National Museum. A total of 11 vessels were reported as discovered between 1976 and 1998, under some 2 metres of silt. In recent years a replica of a balangay boat has been built in the Philippines and it carried out a number of trial voyages in South East Asia. This replica is due to be put on show for the public in Manila.

The first vessel discovered was conserved and is exhibited on site. A second ship was excavated and is on display in Manila in a partially reconstructed form. A third vessel and portions of a fourth have been excavated and are stored in pieces on site. The National Museum is planning to reopen the site in order to record in detail the remaining ships, to trace the stylistic developments of these vessels, and to test the dating evidence. The earlier excavations indicated a range of dates covering the millennium before the Spanish colonisation. This paper is a description of the plans for the re-excavation of this prominent site. The location is very sensitive as vessels were declared ‘National Cultural Treasures’ by Presidential Decree in 1986.


Roderick Stead
E Dizon


November 2011



Roderick Stead and E Dizon, “A National Cultural Treasure Revisited – Re-assessing the ‘Balangay’ Boat Discoveries,” The MUA Collection, accessed January 29, 2023, http://www.themua.org/collections/items/show/1240.

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