Applying UAS Photogrammetry to Analyze Spatial Patterns of Indigenous Settlement Sites in the Northern Dominican Republic

  • Till F. Sonnemann
  • Eduardo Herrera Malatesta
  • Corinne L. Hofman
Part of the Quantitative Methods in the Humanities and Social Sciences book series (QMHSS)


When in December 15, 1492 Christopher Columbus’ ships passed the hilly north of an island he had named La Hispaniola, today divided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic, he noted in his captain’s log smoke of many fires rising from the hill tops. While it remains questionable if these were meant as signals or simply represented daily domestic activities, his description provides evidence of indigenous occupation on the slopes of the island’s northern mountain ranges. What evidence can be found through photogrammetrically surveying pre-colonial settlements in northern Hispaniola? Archaeological topographic studies show that the first inhabitants of this island significantly transformed the landscapes they lived in—these ‘footprints’ now serving as one of the criteria that indicate an archaeological habitation site. The indigenous settlements were located on hill tops, flanks, slopes or ridges, their settings provided a view over a valley or towards the sea, and good inter-visibility between various settlements. Depending on the location, the intra-site topography can either be characterized as a group of shallow mounds (i.e. montículos described by the Spanish) or flattened areas, each of which having been dug into the natural slope to level the base for wood-supported round houses—Excavations of post hole features in a circular array in the north-western Dominican Republic support this theory. Around these house structures ceramic, lithic and food waste was dumped creating shallow mounds, which were additionally used for other domestic and ritual purposes. The recent development of affordable, small, camera-mounted UAS, has made it possible to record these sites by photogrammetric means. The resulting orthophotos and the DEM analysis complement the archaeological finds of the site of El Manantial in the Montecristi province. They highlight the slight changes in soil patterns and topography, and reveal the existence of levelled mounds. The technique shows great potential for fast and precise recording of archaeological sites in difficult terrain. Digital reconstruction could provide answers how a village was spatially structured and organized at its time of occupation. In addition, the technique provides an opportunity to map and measure more recent changes to the landscape, caused by excavations, illegal looting or ploughing.


Archaeological Site Dominican Republic Archaeological Material Photo Coverage Ceramic Style 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank Menno Hoogland, Jorge Ulloa Hung and Sony Jean for their contributions in the field work, Angus Mol and Julijan Vermeer for their contributions to the script. The research leading to these results has received funding from the Europe-an Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement n° 319209 NEXUS1492-project.


  1. Bâty, P. and C. Seng. 2012. Homes, fields and temples - Excavations at the airport in Siem Reap. Paper presented at EurASEAA 14th Int. Conf., Sept. 18-21, 2005, Dublin.Google Scholar
  2. Block-Berlitz, M., Ducke, B., Kroefges, P., Martinez Mora, E. and R. Rojas. 2014. Low-cost and efficient UAV-based 3D documentation in Tamtoc (Mexico), Poster at the CAA2014, Paris.Google Scholar
  3. Capobianco, K. 2005. Excavation Site Prediction Using High Resolution Satellite Imagery and GIS Data Development of Archaeological Deposits for En Bas Saline, Haiti. Unpublished Master Dissertation, University of Florida, Gainesville.Google Scholar
  4. Casana, J., Kantner, J., Wiewela, A. and J. Cothrenc. 2014. Archaeological aerial thermography: a case study at the Chaco-era Blue J community, New Mexico. Journal of Archaeological Science, 45, 207–219.Google Scholar
  5. Casas, Bartolomé de las. 1552. Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las In-dias. Reprinted in Alicante: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, 2006.Google Scholar
  6. Cook, N. D. 1993. Disease and Depopulation of Hispaniola, 1492-1518. Colonial Latin American Review, 2, 213-46.Google Scholar
  7. Cruz Mendéz, M. 1999. Historia Social Dominicana. Santo Domingo: Impresora Soto Castillo, S.A.Google Scholar
  8. Curet, L. A. Welch, D., Hamilton, W.D. and L.A. Newsom. 2005. Search of the Lost Features: A Progress report of a Geophysical Study at the Civic-Ceremonial Center of Tibes, Puerto Rico. In: G. Tavares María * M. Garcia Arévalo (eds.) Proc. of the 20 th Int. Congr. for Caribbean Archaeology, 65-74. Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Santo Domingo.Google Scholar
  9. Deagan, K., and J. M. Cruxent. 2002. Columbus’s outpost among the Taínos Spain and America at La Isabela, 1493-1498. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Denevan, W. M. 1992. The native population of the Americas in 1492. 2nd rev.ed. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dunn, O. and Kelley, J.E. (ed. and trans.) 1989. The diario of Christopher Co-lumbus’ First Voyage to America 1492-93, Abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. Norman, OK. University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
  12. Finch, J. C. 2013. Surveying Caribbean cultural landscapes: Mount Plantation, Barbados, and its global connections. Internet Archaeology, 35, 35.Google Scholar
  13. Henige, D. 1978. On the contact population of Hispaniola: History of Higher Mathematics. Hispanic American Historical Review 58.Google Scholar
  14. Healy, P. F., Helmke, C. G. B., Awe J. J. and K.S. Sunahara. 2007. Survey, Settlement, and Population History at the Ancient Maya Site of Pacbitun, Belize. J. of Field Archaeology 32, 1, 17-39.Google Scholar
  15. Herrera Malatesta, E., T. Sonnemann, and C. L. Hofman. 2014. Approaches to Amerindian Landscapes in the Northern Dominican Republic. Poster at the 3rd Landscape Archaeology Conference (LAC), Rome.Google Scholar
  16. Hofman, C.L. and M. L. Hoogland. 2015a. Beautiful tropical islands in the Caribbean Sea. In W. J. H. Willems & H. P. J. van Schaik (eds.) Water & Heritage – material, conceptual and spiritual connections. Sidestone Press, Leiden, 99–120.Google Scholar
  17. Hofman, C.L. and M. L. Hoogland. 2015b. Investigaciones arqueológicas en los sitios El Flaco (Loma de Guayacanes) y La Luperona (Unijica). Informe pre-liminar. Boletin del Museo del Hombre Dominicano.Google Scholar
  18. Hofman, C. L., Hoogland, M. L. P., Oliver, J. R., and Samson, A. V. M. 2006. Investigaciones Arqueológicas En El Cabo, Oriente de La República Domi-nicana: Resultados Preliminares de La Campaña de 2005. El Caribe Arqueológico, 9, 95–106.Google Scholar
  19. Hofman, C. L., Hoogland, M. L. P., Samson, A. V. M., and Oliver, J. R. 2008. Investigaciones Arqueológicas En El Cabo, Oriente de La República Dominicana: Resultados Preliminares de Las Campañas 2005 y 2006. Boletín Del Museo Del Hombre Dominicano, 42, 307–16.Google Scholar
  20. Kvamme, K. L. 2003. Geophysical Surveys as Landscape Archaeology. American Antiquity 68, 3, 435-457.Google Scholar
  21. López Belando, A. 2012. El sitio arqueológico Playa Grande. Río San Juan, María Trinidad Sánchez. Informe de las excavaciones arqueológicas campaña 2011-2012, Unpublished Manuscript, Museo del Hombre Dominicano.Google Scholar
  22. Luna-Calderon, F. 1975. Preliminary Report on the Indian Cemetery “El Ata-jadizo”, Dominican Republic. Unpublished report. Muséo del Hombre Dominicano.Google Scholar
  23. Lyew- Ayee, P. and I. Conolley. 2008. The Use of Imagery to Locate Taino Sites in Jamaica in a GIS. In: Reid, B. A. (ed.) Archaeology and Geoinformatics: case studies from the Caribbean, 137-154, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press,.Google Scholar
  24. Medica, D., Mušič, B., and A. Samson. 2010. Recognition and Interpretation of Shallow Microrelief Features in Limestone Bedrock using the Ground Penetrating Radar Method, the case of El Cabo, Dominican Republic (In Slovenian with English abstract). Arheo, 27, 15–43.Google Scholar
  25. Moore, C. and N. Tremmel. 2002. Internet Source: Accessed August 15, 2014
  26. Moya Pon, F., and M. Pérez Ceballo. 2004. Atlas de los recursos naturales de la República Dominican. Santo Domingo: Secretaría de Estado de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.Google Scholar
  27. Nex, F. and F. Remondino. 2014. UAV: platforms, regulations, data acquisition and processing. In: Remondino, Fabio and Stefano Campana (eds.) 3D Re-cording and Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage. BAR Int. Ser. 2598, 73-88.Google Scholar
  28. Nishimura, Y. 2008. Comparative geophysical survey results in Japan: Focusing on kiln and burial remains. In: Campana, S., and S. Pirlo. Seeing the Unseen. Geophysics in Landscape Archaeology. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis 2008. Google Scholar
  29. Oliver, Jose R. 2009. Caciques and Cemi Idols. The Web Spun by Taino Rulers between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  30. Ortega, E. 1988. La Isabela y la Arqueología en la ruta de Cristóbal Colón. San Pedro de Macorís: Universidad Central del Este.Google Scholar
  31. Ortega, E. 2001. Los objetos de conchas de la prehistoria de Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo: Fundación Ortega Alvarez, Inc.Google Scholar
  32. Ortega, E. 2005. Compendio General Arqueológico de Santo Domingo Vol. 1. Santo Domingo: Academia de Ciencias de la República Dominicana.Google Scholar
  33. Ortega, E., and C. Fondeur. 1978. Estudio de la cerámica del período indo-hispano de la antigua Concepción de La Vega. Vol. 1. Taller.Google Scholar
  34. Ouédraogo, M., Degré, A., Debouche, C., and Lisein, J. 2014. The evaluation of unmanned aerial system-based photogrammetry and terrestrial laser scanning to generate DEMs of agricultural watersheds. Geomorphology, 214, 339-355.Google Scholar
  35. Pincus, J., Carr, R. and D. Whitman. Imaging Sub-surface Features of the Miami Circle with Ground Penetrating Radar, University of Arizona’s Archaeological Sciences of the Americas Inaugural Symposium, Tucson, Arizona. Forthcoming. Also found at: (accessed 02/05/2015)
  36. Remondino, F. 2014. Photogrammetry – Basic theory. In: Remondino, F. and S. Campana (eds.) 3D Recording and Modelling in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage. BAR Int. Ser. 2598, 63-72.Google Scholar
  37. Rodriguez Suarez R., and J. R. Pagan-Jimenez. 2008. The Burén in Precolonial Cuban Archaeology: New Information Regarding the Use of Plants and Ceramic Griddles during the Late Ceramic Age of Eastern Cuba Gathered through Starch Analysis In: Hofman, C. L, Hoogland, M. L., and A. L. van Gijn (eds.): Crossing the Borders. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  38. Rouse, I. 1939. Prehistory in Haiti: A study in method. Yale Publications in Anthropology, 21, Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.Google Scholar
  39. Rouse, I. 1992. The Tainos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  40. de Ruiter, S. 2012. Mapping History An analysis of site locations in the north-western Dominican Republic. Unpublished Master Thesis. Leiden University.Google Scholar
  41. Samson, A., Rogab, C. and T. Küster. 2012. Informe preliminar sobre investigaciones de teledetección arqueológica realizadas en la costa norte de la República Dominicana, Octubre 9-16, 2012. Unpublished manuscript. Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Santo Domingo.Google Scholar
  42. Samson, A. 2010. Renewing the House. PhD Dissertation. Leiden: Sidestone Press.Google Scholar
  43. Samson, A. 2011. The most beautiful house in the World. In: Hofman C.L. & A. van Duivenbode (eds.) Communities in Contact. Sidestone Press, Leiden: 421-43.Google Scholar
  44. Samson, A. 2013. Household Archaeology in the Pre-Columbian Caribbean. In: Keegan, W. F., Hofman, C. L. and R. Rodriguez Ramos (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Caribbean Archaeology, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Samson, A.V.M., Crawford, C.A., Hoogland, M.L.P., and C.L. Hofman. 2015. “Resilience in Pre-Columbian Caribbean House-Building: Dialogue Between Archaeology and Humanitarian Shelter.” Human Ecology 43: 323–37.Google Scholar
  46. Sonnemann, T. 2011. Angkor Underground – Applying GPR to Analyse the Diachronic Structure of a Great Urban Complex. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, The University of Sydney. Accessed online:
  47. Sonnemann T. 2015. Classification of geophysical data of Angkor, Cambodia, and its potential as an online source. In: A. Traviglia (ed.) Across Space and Time - Papers from the 41st CAA, Perth 25-28 March 2013. Amsterdam University Press: 64–69.Google Scholar
  48. Sonnemann, T. 2016. Oportunidades por el uso de la teledetección en la arqueología del Caribe. Boletin del museo del Hombre Dominicano, 47, Santo Domingo.Google Scholar
  49. Sauerbier, M. and H. Eisenbeiss. 2010. UAVs for the Documentation of Archaeological Excavations. In: Int. Arch. of Photogram., Rem. Sens. and Spat. Inf. Sci., Vol. XXXVIII, 5 Commission V Symposium, Newcastle upon Tyne: 526–531.Google Scholar
  50. Sinelli, P. 2012. Meillacoid and the Origins of Classic Taino Society. In: Keegan, W. Hofman, C.L, and R. Rodriguez Ramos: The Oxford Handbook of Caribbean Archaeology, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Ulloa Hung, J. 2014. Arqueología en la Línea Noroeste de La Española. Paisajes, cerámicas e interacciones. Instituto Tecnológico de Santo Domingo, Santo Domingo.Google Scholar
  52. Ulloa Hung, J. and S. de Ruiter. 2011. Arqueología en la línea noroeste de la República Dominicana. Un esbozo del paisaje arqueológico y las interacciones. El Caribe Arqueológico 12: 60–75Google Scholar
  53. Ulloa Hung, J. and E. Herrera Malatesta. 2015. Investigaciones arqueológicas en el norte de La Española, entre viejos esquemas y nuevos datos. Boletín del Museo del Hombre Dominicano, 46, Santo Domingo: 75–107.Google Scholar
  54. Ulloa Hung, J. Herrera Malatesta, E. and T. Sonnemann. 2014. Resumen de trabajos de campo - Segunda campaña de 17 enero al 17 febrero del 2014. Unpublished Manuscript. Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Santo Domingo, and Leiden University (Nexus1492).Google Scholar
  55. Ulloa Hung, J. and T. Sonnemann. Forthcoming. Exploraciones en la ruta de Colón de 1494.Una nueva aproximación arqueológica a la fortaleza de Santo Tomás de Jánico y su entorno. Boletín del Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Santo Domingo.Google Scholar
  56. Vega, B. 1980. Los Cacicazgos de la Hispaniola. Santo Domingo: Ediciones Museo del Hombre Dominicano.Google Scholar
  57. Veloz Maggiolo, M. 2003. La isla de Santo Domingo antes de Colón. Santo Domingo: Banco Central de la República Dominicana.Google Scholar
  58. Veloz Maggiolo, M.; Ortega, E. y Ángel Caba. 1981. Los modos de vida Meillacoides y sus posibles orígenes. Santo Domingo: Editora Taller,.Google Scholar
  59. Welch, D. 2010. Geophysical prospection at the ceremonial site of Tibes, 1998-2001. In: Luis Antonio Curet and Lisa M. Stringer (eds.) Tibes, People, Power, and Ritual at the center of the cosmos, 60-79. Tuscaloosa: University Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  60. Vargas Arenas, I, Ismenia Toledo, M., Molina, L., Montcourt, C.E. 1997. Los Artifices de la Concha. Museo Arquéologico de Quíbor, Venezuela.Google Scholar
  61. Wilson, S. 2007. The Archaeology of the Caribbean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Till F. Sonnemann
    • 1
  • Eduardo Herrera Malatesta
    • 1
  • Corinne L. Hofman
    • 1
  1. 1.Leiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations