The Palawan island archaeological research initiative for 2004 was a confluence of various groups. The effort was brought together by a common goal to continue work at the platform/rockshelter of the Ille limestone tower (karst) in the valley of Dewil, New Ibajay, El Nido. The various research interests of the Archaeological Studies Program (ASP), The Solheim Foundation, and the National Museum of the Philippines were mainly advanced by this latest season. Equally, under the general ASP project entitled "The Palawan Island Palaeohistoric Project" two specialist collaborators from the United Kingdom with parallel research initiatives joined the investigation: Prof. Michael Bird (formerly a professor of Geology in St Andrews University, Ireland) and Dr. Helen Lewis (formerly from Oxford University, now at University College Dublin).

The field season started in May 13 and ended in July 13, while the post-excavation work continues as of writing. Authorization was granted by the National Museum for the project through Director Corazon Alvina, and clearance was sought from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development. The local government was also informed of the project through the Barangay administration under the leadership of New Ibajay Barangay Captain Georly Paulino. Mayor Edna Lim of the municipality of El Nido was also privy to the project.

Topographic map of Dewil valley, indicating the location of Ille, Makangit and Sinilakan.

The Dewil Valley is located in the northern part of the island of Palawan – the westernmost largest island of the Philippines. The town of El Nido governs the inhabitants living in New Ibajay, the settlement located inside the valley. From El Nido, Puerto Princesa, the capital of the province of Palawan, is approximately 235 kilometers away to the south. From El Nido, Dewil valley is 9 km to the north-west, and the Ille tower karst is 14 km away as the crow flies. It takes around 45 minutes by jeepney to reach New Ibajay from El Nido, and much longer when the roads are cut by heavy rains. The Dewil valley is approximately 7 km long and 4 km wide. From the Ille tower, the Sibaltan bay is approximately 4 km away to the east. The main Dewil river sits south of Ille and runs eastward towards Sibaltan Bay. The river is mainly shallow with a few tributaries. During the rainy season, the waters can turn torrential and several waterways fill up. Near the Ille tower karst, a pond and a stream fill up during the wet months of the year.

Background

While studies with an archaeological component have a relatively long history in northern Palawan, starting in the 1920s, there has never been a sustained research effort at the consistency now seen at the Dewil valley. The archaeologist Carl Guthe (1927,1929, 1935,1938) did a material culture survey throughout the Philippines in the 1920s. Guthe specifically explored northern Palawan as part of his project-objective to collect as much ethnographic and archaeological material from the Philippines for the University of Michigan. In the process he recorded archaeological sites in El Nido (see also Solheim 2002). Guthe's work however never went beyond recording and reporting what he surveyed and collected. In the 1960s, Robert Fox (1970 ) followed Guthe's work in Palawan. He also in the process added new sites to the list, a good amount of these sites from small islands located in Bacquit Bay. A few of the sites that Fox recorded he excavated. All of these excavated sites were caves or rockshelters. One site excavated in the 1960s, Leta-leta cave in Lagen island, was earlier reported by Guthe. It was confidently established that the burial site was of antiquity associated with the "Metal period". The excavation also recovered an unusual earthenware jar with its rim fashioned to look like a yawning/shouting person, which is now displayed in the National Museum in Manila.

During Fox's stay in El Nido, he was helped by Mrs. Gloria Fernandez and her family. Mrs. Fernandez's interest in archaeology led to the National Museum deputizing her to monitor and continue to explore the area for new archaeological sites. Way after the time of Fox in Palawan, Mrs. Fernandez took note of archaeological sites, which she herself found or were reported to her due to the presence of pot hunting activities. Gloria Fernandez is the source for the short reference of Fox in his work stating "reliable reports of caves containing cultural materials in the Diwil (sic) and Taytay areas..." (Fox 1970:179). The information shared by Mrs. Fernandez played a significant role in the 1998 El Nido survey. She pointed out to the team the existence of previously reported sites at Dewil valley. The survey made at the valley led to the discovery of the Ille site – a site that was not named in any of the previous works.

In the 1960s to the 1980s, after the initial interest on sites such as Leta-leta waned, northern Palawan was for all intents and purposes relegated to the sideline of archaeological research. This was the case mainly because interest was focused on central Palawan, which was brought about by the recovery of fossilized human remains. These remains turned out to be the earliest evidence of modern human existence in the Philippines (Fox 1970; Dizon 2003). Northern Palawan could also not compete in priority with the work pursued in the Cagayan valley in northern Luzon. Just as in central Palawan, the research objective in the Cagayan valley was mainly to discover evidence of pre-modern humans in the Philippines (Fox & Peralta 1974). The dearth of archaeologists in the Philippines at that time highlighted the research-neglect for other parts of the Philippines. Lipuun point, were the Tabon cave and Manunggal cave is located ,is surrounded by known archaeological sites with rich artefact deposits, making it an obvious place to concentrate research in a situation of scarce specialists.

While there was an initial survey done by the National Museum in 1990 on the vast landscape of El Nido and Taytay (Aguilera 1990), sustained archaeological interest only returned in northern Palawan in the late 1990s through the initiatives of NGOs like the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), and the Southeast Asian Institute of Culture and Environment, Inc. (SEAICE). These initiatives were closely coordinated with the National Museum of the Philippines and Ten Knots - a private company that managed the first class resorts in El Nido. A survey done in 1998 resulted not only in improving the data on previously reported sites (Paz 1998; Jago-on 1998), it also resulted in the recognition of the high research potential of Dewil valley. Within the Dewil vally the Ille tower karst captured the imagination of archaeologists such as Wilhelm Solheim, who was part of the 1998 survey team. Within the same year of the survey, Ille site was mapped (Mijares et al. 1998) and a test excavation initiated.

Excavation at Ille started in 1998 with a 1.87 m x 1m (site grid location of N3W12) test pit at the front of the West mouth; time, manpower constraints, the presence of human burials, and large buried boulders limited the depth of this excavation to less than a metre (Hara & Cayron 2001). The first full scale excavation was done in 1999 (Solheim 1999, 1998; de la Torre 1999, Bautista 1999) with four excavation areas following the 1m x 1m grid previously established across the platform. The excavation concentrated on grid squares N3W12, N4W12,N2W12,N3W13, and N2W13. Several human burials were excavated in the process as well as a shell midden. The nature of the archaeology once again slowed down the efforts of the team to get to the deeper cultural deposits.

In 2000, excavations continued at Ille with the same area at the West mouth reopened and excavated deeper (Jago-on 2000; SEAICE 2000a, 2000b). The excavation did not manage to go much deeper due to a large rock fall that occupied most of the space of the excavation area. Work continued at Ille in 2002 (Swete Kelly & Szabó 2002; Kress 2002), this time excavating with equal emphasis on both the East and West mouth fronts of the cave's platform. In the 2002 season, evidence of shell middens was exposed in both excavation areas of the site. More burials and artefacts were uncovered similar to the results of the previous excavations. A vertical profile was dated at the East mouth excavation through a series of radiocarbon dates. The dates allowed for a clear understanding of the time depth of the cultural deposit from the excavated shell midden to around the depth of 125 cm from the surface. Below the shell midden, we now understand that it has an age of around 10,000 years, and the shell midden is understood to have been deposited around the fourth millennium BCE (Szabó et al. 2004).

All previous excavations were further synthesized in a status report written by Prof. Wilhelm Solheim (2004) for the Solheim Foundation. In this report, insights on the possible fate of Burial No.1 to 4 at the West mouth were expanded, and a call for long-term research support for the project was once again put forward. The materials excavated from all the Ille excavation seasons are mostly stored in the facilities of the Archaeological Studies Program in Diliman, where further analysis is currently in progress.

The continuing post-excavation work on the Dewil valley materials resulted in the publication of several studies. The challenge of initially mapping the site was reflected on, and resulted in, the creation of one of the more detailed maps of the platform to date (Pawlik 2004). The human teeth from burials excavated in the first two seasons were further studied (Medrana 2002). The teeth study gave us a better understanding of the ages and health of some of the individuals buried at the platform – this was the most that could be done for the moment, working on badly preserved skeletal remains. Various shell remains were excavated from Ille, some utilised or fashioned into tools. An initial study managed to determine most of these shells to species level (Faylona 2003). The shell artefacts from Ille also contributed to the dissertation research of Katherine Szabó, who recently completed her doctoral work at the Australian National University. The discovery of a terracotta turtle figurine at the nearby tower karst of Sinalakan allowed for reflection on the significance of turtles in the cosmology of early inhabitants of the valley (Cayron 2004).

The study at the Dewil valley also benefits from the independent work initiated by Quaternary geologists from the National Institute of Geological Sciences at UP (see Maeda et al. 2003). The combined analysis of data collected from the study of uplifted tidal notches, sediment cores, and coral reef terraces may allow for an understanding of sea levels and possible climatic conditions at the time the Ille tower was utilised as a burial and habitation site.

 
 

The information in this website is maintained by Dr. Victor Paz and the Archaeological Studies Program, University of the Philippines.
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