When the logging industry began to advance through the forests of Manila in the 19th century, the workers stumbled upon a macabre discovery: the region known as Kabayan was revealed to be the site of several man-made caves, carved out of the rock and filled with hundreds of preserved human corpses – some dating back thousands of years.
The mummies were placed there by the Ibaloi, a Filipino tribe native to the province of Benguet, who once performed an elaborate ritual for the dead – and in some cases the not-yet-dead, some of whom apparently began to ingest special embalming concoctions while they were still alive. The treated corpses were then placed in hand-carved sarcophagi and entombed in these hidden chambers.
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) and the National Museum have been working together with the Ibaloi to protect the caves from vandalism, looting and the elements, and several local governments have launched programs promoting cultural awareness of the historic sites. Since 2002, the caves have been open to tourists, and the Ibaloi still conduct religious rites there (although they no longer continue the practice of embalming).
Visit the WMF website for more info and images from the caves of Kabayan.