Llenel “Ellie” de Castro, a young archeologist from University of the Philippines (UP), during her National Geographic presentation about her archeological work from New Ibajay, El Nido. (Photo courtesy of Ellie de Castro.)

The National Geographic has recognized a young Filipina archeologist for her work in El Nido town’s Ille Cave, in its Early Career Leadership Program (ECLP) 2019 held in Washington, DC.

Llenel “Ellie” de Castro, an archeologist from University of the Philippines (UP), presented her Young Explorer Project, the Dewil Valley Community Museum and Ecotourism in Barangay New Ibajay, El Nido, last August 21 to 27 during the National Geographic’s week-long convention for young leaders.

During the young leaders’ event held in National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, DC, de Castro talked about her experience setting up a museum alongside the cave site, inspiring the youth to protect the cave, conserving its heritage, and making ecotourism work.

“It was the archaeology that got me to the Dewil Valley. I was there interested in finding out what the local community, who have watched archaeologists dig for over 20 years in their backyards thought about the work that we did. There were things that became immediately obvious—while our local community knew about the excavations, they did not know much about the archaeology, and as most of the adults were recent migrants, they did not consider the archaeology as their own,” de Castro said.

De Castro started excavating artifacts in El Nido in 2015. She said that her work is an attempt to find ways to bring archaeology closer to the community, promote heritage conservation and hone skills in citizen science communication.

“There is more and more land speculation in the valley and we stand to lose what we worked so hard on. We want to ensure that Ille Cave survives the onslaught of our generation and our best strategy is to create better futures for the kids who call Dewil home,” De Castro said.

Dewil Valley, located in New Ibajay, El Nido, is an archaeological site composed of thousands of artifacts including a 9,000-year-old cremation burial, the oldest in Southeast Asia.