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Stephen Acabado

Assistant Professor

Contact Information

Email    acabado@anthro.ucla.edu
Office  370 Haines
Phone  310-825-9359
I am an anthropological archaeologist interested in human-environment interaction.

My research focuses on the archaeology of highland agricultural systems in Southeast Asia, specifically on the Ifugao agricultural terraces (northern Philippines). My initial research findings established the recent inception of the Ifugao rice terraces, arguing against the long history model proposed at the beginning of the 20th century by pioneer anthropologists. Rather, the rice terraces are seen as responses to the arrival of the Spanish in the northern Philippine highlands. This work has espoused the idea that the artificial contrasts that we see between highland and lowland populations in the Philippines are products of colonialism and history, rather than differences in ecological adaptation.

The findings of the IAP have redirected my research focus to understanding indigenous responses to European colonialism. My current research investigates how indigenous populations responded to Spanish colonialism, particularly populations that did not have direct and/or intensive interaction with the colonizing power. The research program argues that the Ifugao of the Philippine Cordillera moved to the mountains as a means of political consolidation at c. AD 1600 to counter the threat of the Spanish expansion to the northern Philippines and as a response to the policy of reduccion and encomienda. 

This research program contributes to anthropological studies on colonialism by looking at how political and economic intensification mitigated the impacts of colonialism on populations in Ifugao, Philippines, who were in the periphery of Spanish reach. The Ifugao are known for their rice terraces, which are UNESCO World Heritage monuments. Once thought to be over 2,000 years old, our recent work has demonstrated that the upland rice field systems in the region were responses to the social and political pressures from intrusive Spanish colonization into the region starting at c. AD 1600. 

I contend that the Ifugao responded to the imminent infiltration of the Spanish colonizers and their lowland mercenaries by consolidating political control (particularly, control of rice-land holdings and access to trade goods) and intensifying their rice production. Our work provides evidence that indigenous populations in the fringes of the Spanish colonial reach had complex political systems that were meant to deal with community power relationships and other indigenous groups.


Ph.D., University of Hawai’i (2010)


2012. National Geographic Society-Committee for Research and Exploration Grant. Ifugao Archaeological Project.

2011. National Parks Service. Cultural Landscape Inventory and Interim Treatment Plan for Asan and Agat Invasion Beaches, Guam.

2011. National Parks Service. Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments on Known Archeological Sites at War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam) and American Memorial Park (Saipan)

2011. Archeological Site Condition Assessments and Cave Inventories at War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam) and American Memorial Park (Saipan)

2011. GeoEye Foundation Imagery Grant for San Remigio, Cebu Archaeological Project.

2007-2008. Henry Luce Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies Dissertation Fellowship

2007-2008. National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant: Landscapes and Self-Organizing Systems: The Archaeology of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, Northern Philippines

2001-2006. Asian Cultural Council Fellowship (ACC), ACC New York and ACC Philippines.

Selected Publications

2015 Acabado, S.B. Antiquity, Archaeological Processes, and Highland Adaptation: The Ifugao Rice
Terraces. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press. link

(In press - 2014). Rice Pots or Not? Exploring Ancient Ifugao Foodways through Organic Residue Analysis and Palaeobotany. National Museum Cultural Heritage Journal, 1:1 (with M. Eusenbio, J. Ceron, and J. Krigbaum)

(In press - 2014). Community Participation in the Ifugao Archaeological Project. National Museum Cultural Heritage Journal, 1:1 (with M. Martin).

(In press - 2014). Infant Death and Burial Practices in Late Prehistoric Kiyyangan Village, Kiangan, Ifugao. National Museum Cultural Heritage Journal, 1:1 (with A. Lauer).

(In press - 2014). Did the Little Ice Age contribute to the emergence of rice terrace farming in Ifugao, Philippines? National Museum Cultural Heritage Journal, 1:1 (with J.A. Peterson).

(In press - 2014). Defining Ifugao Social Organization: “House”, Field, and Self-Organizing Principles in the Northern Philippines. Asian Perspectives 52(2).

2012. The Ifugao Agricultural Landscapes: Complementary Systems and the Intensification Debate. Journal Of Southeast Asian Studies 43(3): 500-522.

2012. Taro Before Rice Terraces: Implications of Radiocarbon Determinations, Ethnohistoric Reconstructions, and Ethnography in Dating the Ifugao Terraces. In M. Spriggs, D. Addison, And P.J. Matthews (Eds), Irrigated Taro (Colocassia Esculenta) in the Indo-Pacific: Biological And Historical Perspectives. Senri Ethnological Studies. Vol (N.D.). National Museum of Ethnology: Osaka.

2010. Landscapes and the Archaeology of the Ifugao Agricultural Terraces: Establishing  Antiquity and Social Organisation. Hukay: Journal for Archaeological Research in Asia and the Pacific, 15: 31-61.

2009. A Bayesian Approach to Dating Agricultural Terraces: A Case from the Philippines. Antiquity 83(2009): 801-814.






Historical ecology, landscape archaeology, agricultural systems, settlement patterns, emergent complexity, indigenous peoples; Southeast Asia, Philippines, Guam, Micronesia