TWHS: Neolithic Shell Midden Sites, Philippines

One of the things that makes our bucketlist of every inscribed and tentative World Heritage Site such an interesting challenge is that some of these tentative sites are … extremely tentative, shall we say?

And today’s tale is of our flailing attempts to find one of those extremely tentative sites, heading north from Callao Cave to wander around looking for the

Neolithic Shell Midden Sites in Lal-lo and Gattaran Municipalities

Neolithic Shell Midden Sites, Philippines


Neolithic shell midden sites are located along the banks of the Cagayan River in the Municipalities of Lal-lo and Gattaran, about 500 kilometers northeast of Manila.  The shell middens are in varying sizes and extent; and made up mostly of one type of freshwater clams, Batissa childreni.  The biggest deposits of shells are found in Magapit and Bangag in Lal-lo.  The thickest is more than six feet.  Associated with these shell middens are polished stone tools, chert flakes, bones and teeth, and red slipped earthenware with incised and impressed designs.  Most of stone tools are ground, polished with a trapezoidal cross-section; and made of sandstone, claystone and shale.

In Magapit, Lal-lo, the shell middens are centrally or strategically located on tope of the highest hill, panoramic views down stream on the north and up stream on the south can be seen.

In some areas, burial grounds are found associated with earthenware in varying forms and designs. 

Carbon dating indicates first and second millennium B.C. for limestone shell midden and ca. 100 AD in the river banks shell midden.

The size and intensity of the shell deposit yielded valuable information as to the nature of Neolithic in Cagayan Valley.  The Neolithic Period is known as the period when man first started to domesticate plants and animals and to make pottery at the end of the Pleistocene.

Studies on the shell middens of Lal-lo and Gattaran revealed that the ancient people who exploited their environment gathering shells as well as hunting animals like deer and pig.  Pottery shards were decorated not only at the exterior surface but also at the exposed interior surface of the vessel.  Most of the shards could be reconstructed into forms resembling shallow platters.  Incising and impressing of the shards give their distinctive character.

Couldn’t find anything on TripAdvisor, couldn’t find anything on any of the travel sites we frequent, our search-fu didn’t turn up anything that wasn’t copied from that page, except for the Wikipedia entry for Magapit Protected Landscape:

The Magapit Protected Landscape is a protected area of forested limestone hills and grasslands in the Cagayan Valley of northern Luzon island in the Philippines. It covers an area of 3,403.62 hectares (8,410.5 acres) in northeastern Cagayan province straddling the municipalities of Lal-lo and Gattaran.[1]The park was established as a game refuge and bird sanctuary on 15 August 1947 covering an initial area of 4,554 hectares (11,250 acres) declared through Administrative Order No. 10 by President Manuel Roxas.[2] On 23 April 2000, the park was redesignated as a protected landscape area under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act through Proclamation No. 285 signed by President Joseph Estrada.[3] The park is a component of the Northeastern Cagayan Key Biodiversity Area and also contains the Lal-lo and Gattaran Shell Middens, a proposed World Heritage Site.[4]

Well, fine, that’s not totally unheard of, we’ll just head to Magapit, because surely the locals can point us straight to, as it says,

In Magapit, Lal-lo, the shell middens are centrally or strategically located on tope of the highest hill, panoramic views down stream on the north and up stream on the south can be seen.

but as it turns out … nooooooo. At the exact coordinates associated with the listing, there was a hotel and some roadside shops, none of whom had any idea what on earth we might be talking about.

The drivers did their darndest, asking people in the markets, people at the local school, random passerbys, and no, no one had any clue where any of these sites might be found.

However, we could find the boundaries of the Magapit Protected Landscape on the map, and we took an extra careful drive back along the riverside highway looking for anything that might reasonably be considered “the highest hill…”

… and no luck.

So, we took a panoramic view upstream and downstream (above) and of the Magapit Suspension Bridge:

Neolithic Shell Midden Sites, Philippines

… and figured, ok, we’ve spent all afternoon wandering around, and by all the descriptions and maps we can find, the middens must be somewhere in these pictures …

… so we’ll just decide that being inside the Magapit Protected Area, and standing directly on the co-ordinates specified in the listing, is close enough to count as a visit to this one.


p dir=”ltr”>So, unless you’re a really truly seriously hard-core site counter, no, we don’t figure you should bother even trying to hunt this one down. If you are though, and you do a better job of hunting down something actually worth a visit than we did, let us know where it is!

About Author


I go places.

Leave a Reply