Ancient burial sites uncovered on beach and church grounds in Cebu

Andoni Aboitiz (squatting) viewing three burials with associated earthenware potteries as Dr. J. Eleazar R. Bersales, NCAP Co-Project Director, explains the significance of the finds to Philippine archaeology.

Ongoing archaeological excavations in San Remigio on the northern part of Cebu Island have uncovered ancient burial sites containing human remains, earthenware, and weaponries, which tell a lot about how inhabitants of the island lived and died during the late Metal Age (1500 years ago).  

The National Museum of the Philippines and the University of San Carlos (USC) are currently conducting the archaeological excavations, a research funded by the Aboitiz Foundation, Inc. 

A two-year research activity, the San Remigio excavations aim to obtain insight into archaeological and cultural history of Cebu. The research will also be the first to systematically document the Metal Age in this part of the Philippines. 

According to the Facebook page post of The National Museum, the excavations started last July 12 and focused on two sites—the Lapyahan Public Beach Site and the San Nepomuceno Parish Church site. 

At the Lapyahan Public Beach, archaeologists have uncovered one primary burial site that has a corpse lying on the ground in an extended position, with its head fragmented or separated from the rest of the body. Conditions of the corpse indicated that the body was tightly wrapped when buried. An iron dagger was also found on the right side of the burial near the ribs. 

The excavation team also found a very large earthenware jar that potentially holds human remains. 

The 4×6-meter trench at the Lapyahan Public Beach site showing a primary burial and a large earthenware pot believed to contain a burial.

The San Juan Nepomuceno Church excavation site have revealed six primary burials, with the corpses also found in an extended supine position. 

Found inside the burials are three earthenware pottery vessels that possess stylistic affinities to Kalanay Type Pottery that dates back to the Metal Age. 

Kalanay  earthenware pottery with distinct forms and decoration was first reported by Wilhelm Solheim II from his excavations in Kalanay Cave, Masbate in the 1950s. 

The large earthenware pot found at the Lapyahan Public Beach Site believed to contain human remains.

Aside from the burials found at both sites in San Remigio, the archaeological team also found evidence for human settlement of the area. 

Refuse deposits of edible bivalve and univalve shells (e.g., anadara and grafrarium, among others), earthenware sherds, and charcoal across excavation units were indications that humans settled in the area, according to the National Museum post.

Further analysis of all archaeological material will be carried out after the excavations and bone and soil samples will be sent abroad for radiocarbon dating.

Previous archaeological work at San Remigio in 2011 and 2012 revealed the area served as a settlement and burial site for inhabitants of Cebu sometime during the Late Metal Age. 

Based on finds from past excavations, prehistoric residents of San Remigio subsisted on shell, fish and pig and utilized pottery and net sinkers. They buried their dead along with funerary offerings that included pottery, shells, and iron objects.

Raquel P. Gomez
Special Features writer at Philippine Daily Inquirer. She is tasked to write anything under the sun, but certain topics appeal to her personally, like technology, gardening, cooking, food, movies, TV series, heritage and historical areas, and travel. You may email her at