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An anthropological perspective on the role of Chinese trade ceramics in the prehistory of a Philippine culture Langrick, Helena


This study presents an analysis of Chinese trade ceramic data from a stratified burial site in the Philippines representing two main proto-historic periods in the 12th and 14th centuries A.D. An ethnographic model constructed from ethno-historical data is used to generate hypotheses which are evaluated by means of quantitative analyses designed to test for social complexity in each period. The results of analyses are then assessed in terms of symbolic patterns derived from the ethnographic model. The research framework includes the construction of a methodological structure designed to incorporate both processual and symbolic approaches to archaeological analysis. The Pila cultural system is treated as an open, non-homeostatic system incorporating tangible and intangible elements, some aspects of which are not amenable to exact definition or measurement. Major areas of focus include the trade sub-system, the social sub-system and the ritual subsystem. Hypotheses test for social differentiation in terms of wealth, descent, social roles, and specialization of function; for hierarchy and centralization in terms of corporate control; for symbolic content of artifacts and ritual patterns; and for culture change in terms of increased social complexity in the later period. Analyses involve the evaluation of quantitative differences in amount of goods; patterns of spatial distribution throughout the site and within individual burials; and comparisons of burial treatment between individuals and between sub-groups. Major areas of theoretical concern include the question of status differentiation in prehistory, and the extent to which inferences can be made from mortuary patterns; the relationship between material culture, social organization and ideology; and the effects of prolonged long-distance trade on the internal complexity of a cultural group. I conclude that in Pila, mortuary patterns represent an accurate reflection of socio-cultural patterns in general. The results of the analyses support the applicability of the ethnographic model of Pila as an egalitarian society with a prominent ideological component in which Chinese ceramics played an important role. I conclude that a recursive relationship is seen to exist between material culture, social organization and ideology. In particular, that the physical characteristics of Chinese ceramics, characterized by durability, resonance, impermeability and light-reflecting glazes, caused them to become closely identified with all aspects of ritual, and to reinforce the ideological patterns of Pila. These ideological patterns include a belief in powerful ancestor and nature spirits which control all aspects of life and death. Associated with this are petitionary rituals of every kind, conducted mainly within the family circle in a one-to-one relationship with the spirits, and involving the use of Chinese ceramics as important ritual objects. The mortuary data also indicates that culture change, characterized by a slight general increase in social complexity, occurred between the earlier and later cultural periods. This increase in social complexity appears to be associated with the long-standing trading contacts with China, in terms of economic impact as well as diffusion of certain cultural elements.

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