Houses for the Living and the Dead

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Project Details

Title:Houses for the Living and the Dead

This research combines archaeological and ethnohistorical research to study the organisation of settlement space and residence rules among the Late Ceramic Age (“Taino”) Indians during the Late Ceramic Age (AD 1000-1492). Collaborative research between the Caribbean Research Group, Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University and the Museo del Hombre Dominicano, Santo Domingo, has resulted in a PhD dissertation on the settlement features from El Cabo San Rafael (Samson 2010) as well as numerous published articles, reports and MA/BA theses.

The Taino were the first indigenous people encountered in the New World by Christopher Columbus. Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) was home to the most densley populated and complex precolumbian societies in the Caribbean. Existing interpretive models of village settlement and household organisation are based almost entirely on colonial documents and chronicles written by the Spanish. Such ethnohistoric models have only been minimally supplemented by archaeological data from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Lesser Antillean islands.

To address this and complement the picture, archaeological investigation was undertaken at the site of El Cabo, in the Higüey region, Altagracia province of the eastern Dominican Republic. Dense feature clusters provided an excellent opportunity to study the spatial organisation of a late pre-Columbian settlement in the Greater Antilles. Over 30 houses were excavated in the indigenous town of El Cabo, as well as numerous other community and work structures, burials and associated artefact assemblages. El Cabo, inhabited since ca. AD600, was eventually abandoned in the early years of the 1500s after European colonization. An early contact Spanish assemblage associated with the indigenous houses provides insight into early contact dynamics in this region of Hispaniola.

Archaeological research was complemented by a detailed re-analysis of the ethnohistoric accounts.

Keywords:Greater Antilles, Household archaeology, Taíno
Sponsors/Funders: Netherlands Organiation for Scientific Research (NWO)
Country:Dominican Republic
Region:Altagracia, Dominican Republic, Greater Antilles, Caribbean
Project Start Year:2005
Projected End Year:2008

Account Owner

Contact: Alice Samson
Postal Address: Faculty of Archaeology

Postbus 9515

2300 RA Leiden

Post Code: 2300 RA

Project Content

PDF File
Renewing the House [10.08 MB]
This study is a contribution to the household archaeology of the Caribbean. The aim of the research was to come to a material definition of the precolonial house, rather than rely on the few, short, Spanish colonial descriptions. Archaeological research from the indigenous Taíno site of El Cabo in the Dominican Republic is presented and seven centuries of community history from development and growth, to eventual demise after European contact is narrated through the dominant structure, the house. The interpretation of over 2000 domestic features, associated artefact assemblages and the spatial organization of the settlement between ca. AD 800 and 1504 is described in detail. No archaeological house plans have previously been published for precolonial Hispaniola. The data from El Cabo tips the scales the other way, contributing to a history of indigenous life through the study of the native house and its diachronic materialization - the House Trajectory.

Project Location

Latitude: 18.41086°N
Longitude: 68.44815°W