Researcher Victor Estrella examines gold artifacts at the U-M Research Museums Center. (Photo by Victor Estrella.)

During the month of April 2018, Victor Estrella, a faculty member at the Philippine Normal University in Manila and a research fellow at the U-M Center for Southeast Asian Studies, visited the Research Museums Center to work with UMMAA collections from the Philippines. Estrella examined gold ornaments and other gold objects, mostly from burial contexts in the central and southern islands of the Philippines. These items date primarily to the period known as the Late Metal Age in the Philippines, from about the 5th through the 10th centuries. They were recovered during excavations led by Carl Guthe, UMMAA’s founding director, between 1922 and 1925.

The collection from Guthe’s Philippines expedition is one of the largest collections of Filipino artifacts outside of the Philippines and remains an important research tool, especially as looting and the illicit trade in archaeological materials in the region have endangered archaeological sites.

Estrella’s research focuses on the gold-working techniques artisans used to create the various components of these objects. Components such as gold wire and granules can be produced in multiple ways, each of which leaves a special pattern of tooling marks and other signatures that can be seen under a microscope. By understanding the frequency and distribution of gold-working techniques, Estrella can address questions of cultural interaction and exchange. Much of the gold from the Metal Age in the Philippines arrived through exchange with mainland Southeast Asia and may have been modified over time before finally being made into the ornaments and other objects interred in burials.

Good luck to Victor Estrella in his ongoing research!

Story by Martin Menz (

This small gold disc of thin gold leaf with embossed designs was recovered in a cave in Masbate Island, Philippines. (Photo by Victor Estrella.)

This microphotograph shows a small tubular gold bead found in a grave in the town of Carcar, in the island of Cebu, Philippines. (Photo by Victor Estrella.)

This pennanular gold ear ornament with decorative wires attached to it was found in Argao, in the island of Cebu, Philippines. (Photo by Victor Estrella.)