The oldest known work of art in the Philippines is hidden in the mountains of a town that calls itself the country’s art capital.
How fitting—and yes, what a coincidence too that the one who discovered it would turn out to be a National Artist for Visual Arts.
But fascinating though the artwork is, its greatest challenge—nay drawback as far as tourists are concerned—is that it isn’t easy to reach, at least for those taking public transport.
But as its caretaker would quip, this isolation is also a good thing if only to keep preserving the artwork—127 stick figures etched on a huge rockwall made of volcanic tuff, made between 3,000 BC and 500 AD. This wall art is officially called the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs (petroglyph means rock carving).
Here are interesting tidbits about its history:
- It was discovered by Carlos ‘Botong’ Francisco in 1965 while on a trip with a group of boy scouts. A muralist, Francisco was resting on the rockshelter when he noticed figures on the rocks. As the National Museum would further explain, “Upon his return to town, he inquired from among the old residents of Angono for any information about the rockshelter. He was told that there really were drawings known to be in [sic] rockshelter in the hills but that nobody in town, even among the old folks, gave any significance to them at all.”
- The rock shelter is 63 meters wide and was used by Filipino guerillas during World War II.
- Out of the 127 stick figures, at least 51 were identified as distinct types. This suggests that the drawings were the works of many individuals.
- The stick figures are believed to be of turtles and lizards.
AGE OF THE ETCHINGS
Admittedly, the initial period estimate—which covers at least 3,500 years—is too broad, according to the museum caretaker Roden Santiago. Santiago added though that studies by the University of the Philippines are underway to come up with a more accurate estimate (i.e., narrower period) of the drawings’ age.
“We cannot use carbon-dating on the drawings because carbon-dating would provide the age of the rock—not the time when the drawings were made,” Santiago told our group.
He continues to clarify though that even if the drawings were found to have been made made 500 years ago, they would still be the oldest work of art in the country.
In the meantime, the etchings are now considered a National Cultural Treasure, and are also listed in the World Inventory of Rock Art. The World Monuments Watch and the World Monuments Fund declared it “one of the most imperiled historic sites in the world.”
The site itself is bare-bones: there’s a 109-meter manmade tunnel with no lights at the entrance, which visitors have to navigate by foot since vehicles aren’t allowed inside. The walk though is manageable despite the darkness, and it actually adds to the place’s mysticism.
The clearing on the other side of the tunnel is where a small museum sits, and to its right is the viewdeck for the petroglyphs. No one is allowed to go near the artworks anymore—there have been vandalisms on some portions of the rock wall made by really sick people so the museum management decided to limit access only within the wooden platform.
This is only as near (or as far) as you can get to the rock wall.
BUT NO, IT’S NOT A ZOO
Santiago shared that a lot of the visitors who would come to the petroglyphs would look for “the animals,” expecting a zoo inside. This is because of a sign at the entrance saying “Don’t Harm Animals.” While Santiago said there are animals around, they are free-range (not in cages).
And these are rather interesting species too, although we weren’t too lucky to spot any of them, save for a giant earthworm, which was not a good sight at all. Species found in the area include:
- The Philippines’ largest owl, the Philippine Eagle Owl. [See: photo of a Philippine Eagle owl]
- The gliding lizard (Draco rizali) which was discovered by Dr. Jose Rizal in Dapitan. The lizards are known to ‘fly’ or glide in between branches of trees.
- 29 identified species of birds, 10 of which are endemic.
- 20 minutes: average time you’re going to spend in the area
- There’s no public transport passing by the site. When you’re commuting, the best we could think of now is to flag a tricycle in Angono for a special trip.
- Travel time: 15 minutes from Angono, one way.
- Buses/vans going to Angono are available at the Araneta Bus Terminal in Cubao & SM Megamall.
- Also check out this interesting 360-degree rendition of the petroglyphs by 360Philippines.com. Don’t forget to click on the arrows to move further inside the area.
- CNN Travel (formerly CNNGo) also featured the petroglyphs in a segment hosted by Filipina host Nikki Gil. Check out the video here.
Eastridge Road, Angono, Rizal
Sundays to Saturdays, 8 AM to 5 PM
Entrance fee: P20 for adults; P10 for students and children
This is the fourth and final part of our Rizal Series from our Rizal Blogger Tour sponsored by Thunderbird Resorts Philippines. Check out our other posts: