Patterns and Recognition – Mapping indigenous settlement topography in the Caribbean

Till Frieder Sonnemann


Amerindian settlements in the Caribbean have mostly been identified through the assemblage of artefacts; predominantly large conglomerations of shells, but also ceramics and lithics. The topography is another important aspect to consider. Small mounds are distributed between levelled areas where wooden house structures once stood. Modern ploughing and looting have often dispersed the material over a large area. Undamaged sites, where circular depressions surrounded by earthen walls show the location of the former buildings, however, present unique opportunities to investigate settlement dynamics through novel non-destructive approaches.
Local scale UAS surveys have mapped several sites in high resolution, the outcome providing an overview of size and distribution of mounds and platforms. After digital clearance of vegetation, and extraction of the resulting DEM and orthophoto to GIS, filtering and enhancing the results provides an opportunity to perform spatial analysis approaches on the data set. From calculating the actual extent of living space and defining a likely zone of habitat, to understanding the relation of platforms to mounds within their environment may provide us with ideas on how and for what purpose the settlement was set up at this location, and if there was a e.g. hierarchical structure.