Of all the artifacts, tools, and objects of art found in Bicol Region, Mataas Shell Scoop stands out for its priceless cultural value and was declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum, the only object from the region which has been given designation to date.  Mataas Shell Scoop is classified as a shell spoon, a concave utensil made from green turban shell (Turbo marmoratus), which is known for its mother-of-pearl luster.

Archaeologists Robert Fox and Alfredo Evangelista found it in 1957 among other prehistoric artifacts on a rock sheltered at Barangay Mataas in Cagraray Island, Bacacay, Albay. At present, it was kept at the National Museum of Anthropology in Manila. The Mataas Shell Scoop is one of the shell spoons found in a dozen Philippine sites from Batanes to Southern Mindanao dated from 0 to 300 AD, and then from 1600 BC to 370 AD this time frame largely falls within the Neolithic Period of Philippine prehistory, when metal tools were not yet extensively used. It was also discovered that shell spoons have also appeared within the larger Western Pacific area, and were found in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.

Mataas Shell Scoop differs from other shell spoons in terms of its carved figure in its handle. Its shape and presence appears to be an anthropomorphic (human-shaped) figure wherein its handle are linked to the soul boat figure in the famous Manunggul Jar and other depictions of the soul boat in Southeast Asian art. Soul boats are found at the heart of the animist beliefs of many indigenous cultures in the Philippines and its neighbors. It shows how our ancestors visualized themselves as they move into present.

Apart from its artistic and religious value, the Mataas Shell Scoop also highlights an aspect of the everyday life of ancient Bicolanos that still remains up to the present. At present Bikol term for spoon may have been derived from Spanish cuchara, but as the Mataas Shell Scoop shows, our ancestors have been using spoons as a basic dining utensil since the Neolithic times. In fact, there are two native Bikol terms for spoon: kuhit and sidok. There is also a specialized spoon for scooping rice called luwag. Hence we say, “Luwag na” when we ask someone to prepare rice for the dining table.

Photo and Text: Provincial Tourism Culture and Arts Office (PTCAO)