The Bolinao Skull with Teeth Ornamentation (14th-15 century AD)

Recovered artifacts & treasures from the Philippines.

The Bolinao Skull with Teeth Ornamentation (14th-15 century AD)

One of the significant information gathered in the archaeological excavation of Balingasay Site, Bolinao, Pangasinan is the beautiful and ornate method of decorating the teeth with gold. In this site, teeth with gold ornaments were found in 67 skulls that were associated with trade ware ceramics attributed to Early Ming Dynasty (ca. 15th century AD). One of the skulls is the renowned Bolinao Skull where gold scales were observed on the buccal surfaces of the upper and lower incisors and canines. The dental ornamentation consists of pegging with gold plates in fish scale design or pattern with gold wire rivets.

Before the Spaniards arrived our ancestors decorated their teeth, from staining them black or red, to adding gold decorations. Antonio Pigafetta mentioned the decorative dentistry among the Visayans. In one of his passages he describes Rajah Siaui (Siawi/Si Awi)/Siagu of Butuan having gold ornamental teeth. “He had three spots of gold on every tooth and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold.” Then in the Sanchez 1617 Visayan dictionary, there is a passage that says, “Pilay sohol ko nga papamusad ako dimo”  [How much will you charge me for gold teeh]?

Pusad was the general term for teeth goldwork, whether they were inlays, crowns, or plating. The mananusad was the dental worker, a professional who got paid for his services.

Halop, covering, included both plating held on by little gold rivets run through the tooth, and actual caps extending beyond the gum line, also secured by pegs. Bansil were gold pegs inserted in holes drilled with an awl called ulok, usually in a thumbnail-shaped field that had been filed into the surface of the incisors beforehand. If they were simple pegs without heads they looked like gold dots on ivory dice when filed flush with the surface of the tooth (like Rajah Siawi). But if the pegs were tack-shaped, their flat heads overlapped like golden fish scales (like the teeth on the Bolinao skull); or if round-headed, they could be worked into intricate filigreelike designs similar to beadwork. Of course, this goldwork was considered all the more effective if displayed on teeth polished bright red or jet black.

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About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

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