El Nido was first spotted on archaeology’s radar in 1922 when Carl Guthe of the University of Michigan made an enthnographic and archaeological survey in Palawan. This was followed in 1965, when Dr. Robert Fox discovered the “Yawning Jar” of Leta-Leta Cave in Lagen Island. After 33 years of silence, El Nido archaeology started to take shape when Dr. Victor Paz, head of University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program[UP-ASP], led annual excavations that started in 1998 at Dewil Valley. Solheim Foundation and the National Museum worked hand in hand to make it happen. Partner universities from France, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ireland and Azerbaijan sent experts and graduate students to the said project.
The efforts led to the discovery of Sinalakan Turtle, 7,000-9,000 year-old cremation sites, 12,000-14,000 year-old cultural deposits and the remains a pantera tigris. In 2005, Ille Rockshelter in Dewil Valley started to attract more tourists, mostly adventurers and students. Seeing the tourism potential of the area, the Local Government Unit [LGU] bought a hectare of land beside the base camp for the proposed site museum.
On May 15, 2009, Dr. Victor Paz, Dr. Helen Lewis, a representative from the University of Dublin, and Arvin Acosta, Tourism Officer of El Nido, explored potential archaeological sites in Sibaltan, namely, Guinleng Open Site, Tapanan Open Site, Santa Monica Natural Keep and the Elementary School’s Open Site. The team agreed to have a base camp at the Elementary School’s Open Site and another excavation at Tapanan Open Site. The proposed expansion sites will serve as test pits for students from the University of Washington and from South East Asian universities.
Sibaltan Test Pit Project will practice a different system of storing archaeological finds. Artifacts and ecofacts that are not needed in laboratory tests will be stored and displayed in the Barangay Hall of Sibaltan instead of Solheim’s house in Calitang. The said storage will serve as a small community-managed museum.
On December 12, 2009, a meeting between Dr. Victor Paz, Arvin Acosta and Raul Maximo of Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff [PCSDS] was held in Lally and Abet Cottages. They discussed how UP-ASP, the LGU and PCSD will work together to realize the proposed expansion. UP-ASP hopes to discover more about El Nido’s pre-history, the LGU anticipates more livehood for the community while PCSDS keeps an eye to preserve the place’s eco-system. Nevertheless, they are all exited to make the project happen in 2010. [Arvin Acosta, LGU]