The welcome arc to Ille Cave, Dewil valley's primary tourist attraction. The cave is located in the karst behind the arc. (PN File Photo)

[UPDATED] The Dewil Valley in El Nido town has been declared a National Cultural Treasure (NCT) by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) through a museum declaration received by the town’s local government on February 2.

The valley, located in Barangay New Ibajay, is a local tourism site known for Ille Cave, a limestone karst that gained fame for the discovery of a human burial site and millennia-old shell middens inside the cave.

As an NCT, the valley is entitled to protection and preservation by the Philippine government due to its historical, cultural, or scientific significance to the country’s history and pre-history. Other NCTs include the Manunggul Jar of Quezon, Palawan, the Yawning Jar of Northern Palawan, the Maitum Jars of Sarangani, and the Laguna Copperplate.

Ellie de Castro, an archeologist from the Palawan Island Paleohistory Research Project (PIPRP) working in the valley, told Palawan News on Friday that the recent declaration by the national museum highlights the significance of the Dewil valley to the local community. She said the archeological site allows both locals and tourists to learn about human history and to connect with Palawan’s earliest inhabitants.

ILLE CAVE: A technical team from the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (PCSDS) prepares to enter Ille Cave in New Ibajay, El Nido, on February 25, 2019. The inset photo shows two pieces of tiger bones (Panthera tigris) collected from the cave. (Photos courtesy of Jovic Fabello and Municipal Tourism Office of El Nido)

READ RELATED NEWS: Ille Cave sought as ‘Natural Heritage Tourism’ site in El Nido municipality

“Importante ang Dewil Valley kasi nabibigyan nya tayo ng chance na malaman yung pieces ng story ng pagkakakilanlan natin at maka-connect doon sa mga tao na nauna sa atin,” de Castro said.

The Dewil Valley has been the site of archeological excavations and the PIP research project since 2004. However, the earliest discoveries started with archeologist Robert Fox in the 1960s during an expedition to Palawan.

“1960’s noong nag explore sila Robert Fox para mag hanap ng evidence kung saan ba nanggaling ‘yong mga tao dito sa Palawan, hindi sya umabot sa Ille cave. Dumaan sya sa El Nido pero hindi sya nakapunta sa Ille Cave kasi at that time naka-focus sila sa south,” De Castro explained.

She said that the national museum resumed its search for a possible archaeological site in Palawan in 1998. Among those who joined the search were the late American anthropologist Dr. Wilhelm Solheim II and UP Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) professor Dr. Victor Paz. The team eventually arrived in Dewil Valley with the assistance of a few locals who had worked with Fox in the 1960s.

De Castro said it is their goal to ensure that the valley’s development as a tourist site will benefit the community.

“One of the goals here is to make sure that the development of an archaeological site benefits the people who live closest to the site,” she said.

The site is currently being managed by the Palawan Island Palaeohistory Research Project and the El Nido local government unit.