Archaeological Survey


The CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY DSI) of The City College of New York concluded the first phase of an archaeological survey on the Eastern banks of the Higüero River in the vicinities of the village of Amor de Dios in the Province of Northern Santo Domingo, about 30 kilometers northwest of the old historic center of Santo Domingo City. The main purpose of the expedition was to search for the sites of some of the earliest sugar plantations in La Española (today the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti), the oldest European colony in the Americas.

The expedition was undertaken by CUNY DSI in conjunction with the National Directorate of Monumental Patrimony of the Dominican Republic, the Institute of Geography of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, the City Council of Northern Santo Domingo, and the Neighborhood Council of the Amor De Dios vicinity of the Northern Santo Domingo Municipality.

This first phase of the archaeological project took place over the course of three weeks, from July 19 to August 8. Guided by historical documents that trace the location of the sugar mills to the area, the archeological team successfully unearthed remnants associated with sugar production, whose exact age still needs to be determined. Researchers feel they may have struck gold. They believe they stepped onto a particular colonial sugar mill plantation that has been little-studied so far. According to archival sources from the 1530s, the area surveyed—which is today covered by a dense sub-tropical humid forest—was part of an extensive active landscape surrounding the colonial city of Santo Domingo.  The material remnants found were left under the care of the National Directorate of Monumental Patrimony for further study.

This archeological expedition is part of CUNY DSI’s ongoing research about the Santo Domingo Slave Revolt of 1521, the first documented uprising of enslaved Black Africans in the Americas.  On December 2 and 3, CUNY DSI, the Black Studies Program at CCNY, and Centro Cultural Eduardo Leon Jiménes, alongside various prestigious institutions will hold an international to commemorate the 500th anniversary of rebellion in La Española.  Click this link to learn more and submit papers for the conference.

The archaeological team was composed by archaeologist Diana Peña-Bastalla, who led the expedition, anthropologist Ruth Pión, archaeologic-technicians Teófilo Fernández and Francisco Coste, geographers Osvaldo Suárez and Luis José Infanzón, land surveyor Pablo Andrés Polanco and historian Anthony Stevens-Acevedo. Four undergraduate college students completed the team of researchers: Esterlin de La Cruz, Marielen Martínez, and Pedro de Paula, from Autonomous University of Santo Domingo and Jarlem López Morel, from Wake Forest University. 

The team counted on the official backing and assistance of the Mayor’s Office of the Northern Santo Domingo Municipality: Mayor Carlos Guzmán and Deputy Mayor Clara Rodríguez, Director of Cultural Affairs Eudys Moreta, and Director of Tourism Roberta Brazobán were actively involved in the research project.   

This expedition has also benefited from the collaboration of members of the local community of Amor de Dios. Agronomical Engineer Hipólito Guzmán, a long-time resident with great knowledge of the landscape and patrimony of the area, worked as the main scout of the team.  Together with other residents, Mr. Guzmán contributed to the identification of the sites with archaeological remains of interest to the campaign. Such community members included Carmen Buret, representing the Amor de Dios Committee of Rural Residents of the Municipality of Santo Domingo Norte, and Juana “Xiomara” Guzmán, at whose house the entire archaeological team took residence during the three weeks.  Local residents Santos Ferrer, Luis Alberto Rincón, Abel Ferrer, and Enrique Santos provided essential assistance and manpower, clearing a path into the thick bushes and vegetation that covered the sites to allow the research team to do their work.

The archeological team surveyed approximately 18 square kilometers of a sloped, irregular area. They found traces of human activity related to the cooking of molasses, an essential step in the sugar production process. The relocation of material in mounds indicated a subsequent alteration of the archaeological area with heavy machinery that was confirmed by the community’s oral memory. 

CUNY DSI is indebted to Architect Juan Mubarak, Director of the National Directorate of Monumental Patrimony, for embracing our proposal with enthusiasm and solidarity. His agency is the Dominican government’s entity with highest jurisdiction over the national monumental patrimony, and the one that scrutinizes, reviews, approves and oversees all the interventions undertaken in the country’s historic monuments.

We are also grateful to the Office of Mayor Carlos Guzmán of the Northern Santo Domingo Municipality, for assigning security personnel and crews of trailblazers to clear the areas. We also extend our gratitude to Professor Marcos Morales, the Director of the Institute of Geography of the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo, and his team of experts for providing valuable expertise to guarantee the success of CUNY DSI’s team in the Dominican Republic.  

Enjoy a selection of photographs from the archeological expedition:

Last Updated: 09/24/2021 12:33