Heritage Conservation Advocates
Huluga Site Complex
Its significance to the Culture and History of Cagayan de Oro and Northern Mindanao
Erlinda M. Burton, Ph.D.
Added May 31, 2023
Kitchen midden in Huluga discovered by Dr. Erlinda M. Burton in August 5, 2003

On August 5, 2003, Dr. Erlinda M. Burton (left, in black) discovered what she described as a "kitchen midden" in the Huluga archaeological complex. Her companions were Minda Ravanera and Ilya Kristine R. Ravanera.


Mindanao Island has a place of importance in Philippine culture history for it served as a corridor for the early human populations in their movement from mainland Asia via a land bridge about 30,000 years ago. Over time, later different human groups followed and occupied different ecological niches in the archipelago. The vestiges of their culture were imprinted on their material things (artifacts) interred in caves, or left embedded in ruined settlements and abandoned by time.

Archaeological sites, where past material culture are found, have been discovered in different regions of the Philippines including Mindanao, a few of which were investigated by the National Museum of the Philippines, but many of these sites were disturbed and destroyed by treasure seekers in search of Yamashita’s gold.  The destruction of the sites has negative implication—the loss of the local cultural heritage of the region, which is the hubris of the country’s patrimony.

Discovery of the Huluga Site Complex
In 1969, a resident of sitio Taguanao, Pedrito Bacarro reported to Fr. Francisco R. Demetrio, S.J. of Xavier University about a cave, which he found on the cliff of a promontory about 100 feet above the waters of Cagayan River. He showed some of the artifacts from the cave and showed him the location.  Fr. Demetrio, who had just opened a small museum, reported the site to the National Museum in Manila.  The latter sent two archaeologists in 1971 to investigate the caves in the Himologan or Huluga vicinity and conducted reconnaissance survey of other sites around the area.

The cave, which was of limestone material, when initially surveyed by the archaeologists revealed physical human remains (parts of a skeleton) such as the cranium and pieces of bone fragments from the upper and lower extremities.  Associated with these remains were funerary goods, which included broken pieces of pottery, small stone adze, and shell ornament (armlet). The cave, apparently, was used as a burial place.  About 100 meters away from the cave, part of the promontory lies the open site, which the archaeologists also investigated. The site was littered with potsherds and obsidian (volcanic glass) flakes and chips, and shards of porcelain.  The presence of such material culture was indicative of human activities, i.e., people must have settled and inhabited the area. 
In the summer of 1975, Fr. Demetrio had invited the writer, an archaeologist, to train some students of Xavier University who had organized an archaeological society, in field archaeology. Pedrito Bacarro reported another burial in the Huluga cliff a few meters away from the main cave. It was more of a hole on the cliff which contained skeletal remains (skull, arm and leg bones and some ribs) in association with funerary  goods such as a small broken pot, polished stone adze, tip of iron implement (knife or spear), shell ornaments, and a few carnelian beads.  In 1977, a small bone sample was sent to the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at La Jolla, California to be dated through the amino acid racemization calibration to determine when the person had lived. The result gave a date of 1,600 B.P. (Before the Present).

Included in the training was the exploratory excavation in the open site. Trenches and pits were laid out to determine deposition of material culture and also the horizon levels of occupation. Surface materials were systematically collected according to quadrant (e.g., NW, NE), which included potsherds, obsidian flakes, chert flakes, and porcelain shards. The open site was badly disturbed since it had been used as a farm and had been plowed many times over.  Therefore, it was impossible to determine the stratification of occupation.

The presence of obsidian (volcanic glass) flakes/chips, some of which were worked, is an interesting phenomenon for northern Mindanao archaeology because it is only in Cagayan de Oro sites where obsidian had been found. Although volcanic activities were quite obviously to have taken in these parts many thousands of years ago, it needs further intensive study to locate the source or provenance, which could be outside of Mindanao or the Philippines.

There had been further archaeological reconnaissance surveys conducted by the National Museum archaeologists around Cagayan de Oro City area and vicinities, specifically along the Cagayan River and plateaus in the 1980s, which revealed several archaeological sites, some of them were rockshelters and burials.  Unfortunately, many of these have been destroyed by road construction, putting up housing subdivisions and other infrastructures, and by treasure hunters.

In 2003, the City of Cagayan de Oro constructed a road from Macasandig up to Taguanao cutting the open site into half and built a bridge over Cagayan River connecting to Barangay Balulang.  While shifting through the debris of dirt, a member of the Heritage Conservation Advocate found a segment of a metal harpoon (iron) and a Spanish coin minted between 1788 and 1808 during the reign of Charles the 4th the king of Spain. 

On the lower western slope of the open site lies the kitchen midden (garbage pile) where a good number of pottery shards with various designs and animals bones, both domesticated and feral, were uncovered.  Different species of mollusks were also associated. The contents of the midden gave good information on the diet of the people. It is unfortunate, though, that the construction has destroyed the open site and the material culture therein.


Cultural Reconstruction of the Huluga Site Complex

From the archaeological finds in Huluga site complex, it can be inferred that Cagayan de Oro was inhabited from prehistoric times (ca. 2000 years) up until the advent of the Recollect missionaries in 1622. The physical environment then around Huluga was believed to have been heavily forested and rich in biodiversity, which could have enticed early human populations to live in the area where they could hunt wild game and forage the forest for wild edible plants. The presence of pottery in the site assemblage could indicate that they had subsisted on food crops that were planted.  It is probable that they were engaged in simple horticulture through the slash-burn technique (kaingin) to clear areas to plant their crops.

Like many early prehistoric societies in other parts of the world, caves had served for not only habitation, but also internment of the dead.  In Huluga, the limestone caverns served that purpose wherein their dead were placed inside the caves along with their personal possessions/effects.  This practice was common among many societies in the past, which had been interpreted by scholars to be related to the belief in life after death.

The water level of Cagayan River then was higher than it is now and abounded in aquatic life, including several varieties of fresh-water fish, mollusks, and edible plants that grow along the banks of the river.   Because of the rich natural resource, Huluga area became a haven for human habitation.  It was probably occupied in different periods from the late Neolithic (new Stone Age) around 2000 years ago up until the onset of the Spanish regime in the Philippines.  The earlier groups intermittently inhabited the area since they were more nomadic hunters and gatherers; but the later occupation seems to point a more semi- sedentary life to more sedentary station, wherein houses were permanently built. It is highly probable that the open site was occupied in different periods by different groups of people. 

It is also evident that the inhabitants in the open site manufactured pottery of varied forms and types, such as cooking pots, jars, and dishes. Although the obsidian flakes and chips were found intermixed with the pottery materials, however, it does not necessarily mean that the bearers of obsidian materials were contemporaneous with the pottery making people; they could be older. Moreover, the great bulk of pottery shards collected from the open site could attest to the presence of a community, a settlement or village, not merely as a camping site as contended by a group who conducted an excavation in the open site two years ago. [Webmaster: 2004]

Where is Himologan Village?

One of the crucial questions frequently asked: Is Huluga site complex linked to the existence of the earliest settlement called Himologan as cited in the oral history of Cagayan de Oro?  In the account of the Recollect missionaries who visited Himologan in 1622, they related that the place was a steep inaccessible rock along the Cagaiang  River (where the name Cagayan was perhaps derived). It had no way of approach or mode of ascent but ladders made of rattan and was fortified and protected.  Himologan was under the leadership of Salangsang with five hundred followers.  The account continues to tell that the site was perched on top (of the promontory) with a large house resembling a cloister (a long house) where many families dwell.  In the middle of the place was a structure called diwatahan, a house of worship. (Blair and Robertson, The Philippine Islands: The Early Recollect Mission. 1624, Vol. 21).

Moreover, according to the oral history of the Cagayanons that the place was also called Huluga, another derivative term from Himologan because of the trees that were felled or cut were dropped into the river to be carried by the current down to the mouth of Cagayan River. The activity of cutting down trees was on going during the Spanish regime when timber were needed to build ships and even for residences in the village of Cagayan de Oro.

The beginning of Cagayan de Oro is not merely based on myth or legend. It is supported by historical accounts and attested by the presence of archaeological evidences in the open sites.  Himologan tells the ethnohistory of the Cagayan de Oro City—its origin, peoples, events, and cultural development.  Its destruction also meant the loss of the cultural heritage of the Cagayanons.

Dr. Erlinda M. Burton was the president of the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) and curator of Museo de Oro, Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro City. Her article and photos by Elson T. Elizaga were printed in "Go 10: A travel guide and tourism directory around Region 10", published by Tourmakers Philippines, Inc., October 2007.