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Tabon Man refers to remains discovered in the Tabon Caves in Lipuun Point in Quezon, Palawan in the Philippines on May 28, 1962 by Dr. Robert B. Fox, an American anthropologist of the National Museum of the Philippines. These remains, the fossilized fragments of a skull and jawbone of three individuals, were believed to be the earliest human remains known in the Philippines until a metatarsal from "Callao Man" discovered in 2007 was dated in 2010 by uranium-series dating as being 67,000 years old. The Tabon fragments are collectively called "Tabon Man" after Tabon Cave, the place where they were found on the west coast of Palawan. Tabon Cave appears to be a kind of Stone Age factory, with both finished stone flake tools and waste core flakes having been found at four separate levels in the main chamber. Charcoal left from three assemblages of cooking fires there has been Carbon-14 dated to roughly 7,000, 20,000, and 22,000 BCE.
Tabon Cave is named after the "Tabon Bird" (Tabon Scrubfowl, Megapodius cumingii), which deposited thick hard layers of guano during periods when the cave was uninhabited so that succeeding groups of tool-makers settled on a cement-like floor of bird dung. That the inhabitants were actually engaged in tool manufacture is indicated in that about half of the 3,000 recovered specimens examined are discarded cores of a material which had to be transported from some distance. The Tabon Man fossils are considered to have come from a third group of inhabitants, who worked the cave between 22,000 and 20,000 BCE. An earlier cave level lies so far below the level containing cooking fire assemblages that it must represent Upper Pleistocene dates like 45 or 50 thousand years ago. Anthropologist Robert Fox, who directed the excavations, deduced that the Tabon Cave was a habitation of man for a period of 40,000 years, from 50,000 to 9,000 years ago.
Physical anthropologists who have examined the Tabon Man skullcap are agreed that it belonged to modern man, Homo sapiens, as distinguished from the mid-Pleistocene Homo erectus species. This indicates that Tabon Man was pre-Mongoloid (Mongoloid being the term anthropologists apply to the racial stock which entered Southeast Asia during the Holocene and absorbed earlier peoples to produce the modern Malay, Indonesian, Filipino, and "Pacific" peoples). Two experts have given the opinion that the mandible is "Australian" in physical type, and that the skullcap measurements are most nearly like the Ainus or Tasmanians. Nothing can be concluded about Tabon Man's physical appearance from the recovered skull fragments except that he was not a Negrito.
The Tabon Caves are a series of caves situated in a limestone promontory at Lipuun Point in Southwestern Palawan. In this area, cave occupation of a sporadic or temporary nature by modern humans seems to be indicated into the early Holocene. In the earlier Holocene, several sites show more intensive or frequent occupation; local people appear to have been strongly focused on land-based, riverine, and estuarine resources; and in many cases the sea is known to have been many kilometers away from the cave sites.
Although today Tabon Cave is just a few minutes’ walk from the sea, the lack of marine shells from early cultural deposits in this cave supports the idea that there was a substantial land shelf around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum, when estimates place sea levels at 30 m below present or possibly lower. The appearance of marine shells in middens in other caves on Lipuun Point from c. 7000 B.P., and especially in later periods, suggests increasing focus on marine resources in the area in general; the abandonment of Tabon Cave just prior to this time may be related to sea level rise. The potential relationship between Tabon Cave travertine and pre-Late Glacial Maximum wetter climates sees some support from recent research on vegetation sequences in north Palawan. Tabon Cave would have been far inland during the late Pleistocene, and Reynolds (1993) suggests that such caves would have been marginal culturally during phases of low sea level, when currently submerged areas would have been the focus for human settlement. Over time, there is increasing evidence for occupation of caves associated with rising sea levels, and at Lipuun Point from ca. 7000 B.P., for a more maritime focus; Tabon Cave is, however, abandoned before this date.
- Scott 1984, p. 14; Zaide 1999, p. 35, citing Jocano 1975, p. 64.
- Henderson, Barney. (August 3, 2010), Archaeologists unearth 67000-year-old human bone in Philippines, The Daily Telegraph, retrieved October 22, 2010
- Scott 1984, pp. 14–15.
- Scott 1984, p. 15
- Pawlik, Alfred "The Palaeolithic in the Philippines" 2003
- Lewis, Helen "LANDSCAPE AND OCCUPATION HISTORY AT TABON CAVE, PALAWAN" 2007
- Scott, William Henry (1984), Prehispanic Source Materials for the study of Philippine History, New Day Publishers, ISBN 971-10-0226-4, retrieved 2008-08-05.
- Zaide, Sonia M. (1999), The Philippines: A Unique Nation (Second ed.), All-Nations Publishing, ISBN 971-642-071-4.
- Fox, Robert B. (1970), The Tabon Caves: Archaeological Explorations and Excavations on Palawan, National Museum, ASIN B001O7GGNI
- Jocano, F. Landa (1975), Philippine Prehistory: An Anthropological Overview of the Beginnings of Filipino Society and Culture, Philippine Center for Advanced Studies, University of the Philippines System