The balangay (large outrigger boats) that have been found along the east and west banks of the Libertad river (old Agusan River) have revealed much about Butuan's history. As a result Butuan is considered to have been a major trading port in the Caraga region during the pre-colonial era.
A golden vestment worn by the Hindu Brahmin Caste, found in Butuan Archeological Digs.
A Golden statuette of the Hindu-Buddhist goddess "Kinari" found in a Butuan Archeological Dig.
A Transliteration of a Prehispanic Philippine document, the Butuan Silver-strip.
Evidence indicates that Butuan was in contact with the Song dynasty of China by at least 1001 AD. The Chinese annal Song Shih recorded the first appearance of a Butuan tributary mission (Li Yui-han 李竾罕 and Jiaminan) at the Chinese Imperial Court on March 17, 1001 AD and it described Butuan (P'u-tuan) as a small Hindu country with a Buddhist Monarchy in the sea that had a regular connection with the Champa kingdom and intermittent contact with China under the Rajah named Kiling. The rajah sent an envoy under I-hsu-han, with a formal memorial requesting equal status in court protocol with the Champa envoy. The request was denied later by the Imperial court, mainly because of favoritism over Champa.
A new ruler with the Indianized name Sri Bata Shaja later succeeded in attaining diplomatic equality with Champa by sending the flamboyant ambassador Likanhsieh. Likanhsieh shocked the Emperor Zhenzong by presenting a memorial engraved on a gold tablet, some white dragon (Bailong 白龍) camphor, Moluccan cloves, and a South Sea slave at the eve of an important ceremonial state sacrifice. This display of irreverence sparked interests from China over the small Rajahnate and the diplomatic relations between the two states reached its peak during the Yuan Dynasty. Chinese records about the Rajahnate stopped after the reign of Rajah Siagu the last independent Rajah of Butuan. He was formally subjugated into the Spanish empire after he made a blood compact with Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
Numerous jars have been found in the Butuan area that indicate the wealth of the kingdom and the existence of foreign traditions. Some of these jars have been dated as follows:
The name Butuan is believed to have existed long before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the Philippine archipelago. One possible indication of this is a rhinoceros ivory seal with design carved in ancient Javanese or early kawi script (used around the 10th century AD ) which, according to a Dutch scholar, was deciphered as But-wan. Another account suggests the name derives from the word batuan, a mangosteen-related fruit common in Mindanao. Another alternative is that the name derives from Datu Bantuan, possibly a former chieftain of the region.