Joe Raedle/Getty Images
In the middle of downtown Miami,
archaeologists excavate a site holding evidence of a more than
1,000-year-old Tequesta Indian village.
As work began on one of the last pieces of undeveloped ground in
Miami's fast-changing downtown, archaeologists uncovered the site of an
American Indian village. It was already centuries old by the time
Columbus arrived in the New World.
The question now for the city and the developer of the planned is how much of the site will be preserved.
To the untutored eye, the site doesn't make much of an impression at first. It's a series of six circles outlined by cut in the bedrock. The circles are smaller versions of the Miami Circle, found 15 years ago and now preserved as a National Historic Landmark.
The Miami Circle is believed to be a ceremonial site
the Tequesta tribe. This new site is something different. Archaeologist
Bob Carr says it appears to be the remains of a Tequesta village.
is probably the earliest prehistoric town plan ever found in eastern
North America," says Carr, who oversaw the discovery of the Miami
Plastic pipes mark holes bored into Miami's
bedrock. The holes likely held posts that supported elevated walkways,
serving as the streets of a Tequesta village.
Carr was called in to survey this site, a 2-acre lot surrounded by
high-rises. Nearby, one of Miami's electric rail cars passes overhead
on elevated tracks.
On the ground, the soil has been scraped
down to expose the limestone bedrock. Carr walks to the first of the six
circles he found, one he calls the Royal Palm Circle. It's 36 feet in
diameter with a double set of holes curving into a circle.
postholes, Carr believes, anchored pine poles that formed the sides of
structures, probably with thatched roofs, where the Tequesta lived, ate
The Tequesta structures were elevated, Carr says.
And he's found signs they were all connected with walkways — the
equivalent of village streets.
"We suspect that what these
probably represent are a series of boardwalks or elevated structures
connecting these circular structures," Carr says, indicating a series of
postholes lined up in straight lines.
Carbon testing dates the
site to 600 A.D. Carr says the Tequesta were still living in the area
when the Spaniards arrived hundreds of years later.
probably encountered Ponce de Leon, who apparently did land somewhere
near the Miami River," says Carr. "Menendez, who was the founder of St.
Augustine, also encountered them and set up the first European mission
and fort at this same location."
After first contact with
Europeans, the Tequesta demise happened quickly, Carr explains. Within
200 years, a population of thousands dwindled to less than 300.
found this first circle several years ago when he began working at the
site. But then, with the real estate bust, the developer put the project
Carr had been talking to the developer about possibly
lifting and moving the Royal Palm Circle so it could be preserved and
displayed. But when Carr resumed work here recently, he discovered the
site contained more than another Miami Circle — it held an entire
"It wasn't really until probably September that we began to get an
idea of the significance of the find there," says William Hopper,
chairman of Miami's Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, the
body that will decide how much — if any — of the Tequesta village should
Hopper says the board is just starting to
explore its options. And, he notes, whatever action it takes may be
appealed to Miami's City Commission.
"But we want to see what
we can do to preserve as much of that as we can, so that people in
future generations can have an understanding of what happened there at
the mouth of the river," Hopper says.
The , the MDM Group, says
it's pleased with the discoveries there. But it's still moving ahead
with plans to build an upscale shopping complex. The company has said it
has signed leases with tenants and plans to have it finished late next
MDM is in discussions with city and county officials about the site, and scenarios for preserving all or part of it.
Jeff Ransom, the Miami-Dade County archaeologist, has been in those meetings, and he's optimistic the site will be preserved.
"It needs to be preserved," he says. "Development and cultural heritage can coexist in this case."
says the Tequesta village takes up just about half of the 2-acre site.
It's possible the site can still be developed and the six prehistoric
circles preserved — perhaps even featured in the project's lobby.
that would require the developer to redesign the final phase of a
billion-dollar project and consider a question: How much is history