In Havana I joined a group of carpenters, plumbers and electricians for a game of…
The extensive archaeological resources of the Dominican Republic are fascinating.
The entire island has an amazing history dating back 10,000 years. The original Taino people of Hispaniola were decimated by Columbus and replaced by a legendary mix of Spanish, French, Africans and others making this one of the more interesting places to visit.
1. Concepción de la Vega – The Forgotten City of Columbus
The first European gold-rush town of the Americas, Concepción de la Vega was the important little town that grew out of the original little fort Columbus put down near the town of La Vega in 1492. It was from Concepción that Columbus launched his search for gold in the nearby valleys and sold young Taino girls into sexual slavery in Europe. Buried by an earthquake and then abandoned in 1562, the site of the ruined town turned over to agricultural lands.
In 1975 a small part of the city was uncovered and the Dominican government began purchasing land in the area that came for sale. The site was excavated from 1976 to 1995 uncovering a rich material culture, the old fort tower, many stone buildings, a foundry and a great number of wells. Since 1994, the Dominican Park Service and the Florida Museum of Natural History have worked together on site and artifact preservation.
2. El Atajadizo
El Atajadizo are the remains of a small Taino site on the southeastern coast of the DR at the mouth of the Yuma River. The Taino were the original inhabitants of the island.
The oldest flint, coral and stone tools from the site date to about 300 BCE. Ceramics date from about 800ACE. The layout of the site has been difficult for researchers to nail down due to the depth of history at the settlement. Multiple layers of occupation gave way to the development of a very large village by about 1300ACE that centered on a cobblestone-paved plaza surrounded by public buildings. Cobbled causeways lead from outer parts of the village to the central plaza and then off to the river. Noticeably different from other Taino sites in the Caribbean is the lack of rectangular ball courts.
Chacuey is another must-see Taino site in the DR. Located in the northwestern corner of the island along the Chacuey River, Chacuey is best known for its hundreds of separate petroglyphs.
As with most Taino villages, this one hosts more impressive stonework, extensive enclosed plazas and sophisticated roadways. The plaza is enclosed by standing stones covered in petroglyphs of human-like faces. From the plaza area two 600 meter long parallel causeways lead to the river and the “Pool of the Twins” (Chaco de las Millizos) and the “Pool of the Little Faces” (Chaco de las Caritas), so-called because of the images of human faces on the stones surrounding the pools. This site reached it height in the decades leading up to the European conquest.
4. Manantial de la Aleta
Located in the remote East National Park area near Boca de Yuma, I’m honestly not sure how accessible this site is due to the fact that it is an underwater limestone sinkhole known as a cenote.
Bartoleme de Las Casas first mentioned this jungle location as the water source for the capital village of Cotubanama, the Taino cacique, destroyed by the Spanish in a bloody 1503 fight. Most likely a place for ceremonial offerings, the cenote was first explored by a team of underwater archaeologists from Indiana University in 1996. The team hauled several tons of diving equipment by mule to access the site. The team reported some difficult diving conditions in the 240+ foot deep cenote. A sampling of artifacts was recovered from the site after detailed documentation the conserved at the Faro a Colón Museum. The team recovered wood, ceramic and gourd artifacts – some of the ceramics being gorgeously decorated. A “duho” or carved wooden stool and a symbol of cacique power were also recovered. Also unique were some surprisingly well-preserved Taino baskets. Many of the artifacts are thought to have come from quite a distance, demonstrating the importance of the area.
5. Regional Museum of Archaeology de Chavon
Although not a site, per se, the small and supposedly impressive Regional Museum of Archaeology (El Museo Arqueológico Regional) at Altos de Chavon hosts a collecting of more than 3,000 pre-Columbian artifacts from the Chavon River region. I’ve spoken to several people who’ve visited the museum and they all say that this is the kind of place that will help you make sense and put into context all of the other archaeological sites you are seeing around the DR.
As of this writing, the museum is open 9 am to 8 pm daily. It is closed on Monday and admission is free.
Also consider The National Museum of History and Geography in Santo Domingo.
For more information on Caribbean archaeology, check out the two books I relied on to write this article. The Peoples of the Caribbean: An Encyclopedia of Archaeology and Traditional Culture and The Archaeology of the Caribbean (Cambridge World Archaeology)