Philippine Prehistory - The First Inhabitants - 40,000 BP

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands in the South China Sea situated between Taiwan to the north and Borneo to the south. Just 2,000 of its islands are inhabited and only 500 are larger than a kilometre square. The nine largest islands of Luzon, Mindanao, Palawan, Panay, Mindoro, Samar, Negros, Leyte and Cebu make up 90% of the nation's land area.

Over the past two million years, the earth has undergone twenty cycles of glaciation. During these ice ages, glaciers accumulate on land a substantial quantity of the earth's water in the form of ice and cause the water levels in the world's oceans to drop. At the height of the last ice age, the sea levels around the Philippines were at least 50 metres lower than they are today. The present sea beds surrounding the Malay peninsula and the islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Palawan were all above water making one huge extension to the continental land mass of Asia.

The earth's climate began warming 18,000 years ago and the oceans regained their present high levels about 8,000 years ago.

No pre-hominid or hominid species such as australopithecus or homo erectus has been found in the Philippines. The first human beings probably reached the Philippines about 40,000 years ago at roughly the same time as they reached Australia and New Guinea. The Philippines, like Australia and New Guinea, were never actually joined to the south east Asian mainland but, at the low ocean levels, the water barrier was much less. The earliest human bones found in the Philippines were on Palawan of modern type and date to 22,000 B.P. although stone tools from Palawan date back to 30,000 B.P.

The original people of the Philippines were the ancestors of the people known today as Negritos or Aeta. They are an Australo-Melanesian people with dark skin and tight, curly brown hair. They are also distinctively small and of short stature. As the Pygmies in the equatorial forests of Africa, the Aeta are believed to have adapted locally to the tropical jungles of the Philippines.

The Aeta are a nomadic hunting and gathering people who forage in small family bands with an informal organization and leadership. They were once widespread throughout the Philippines but are now found only in the remote highland areas of Luzon, Palawan, Panay, Negros and Mindanao.