Uncovering a 2,000-Year-Old Mystery in Downtown Miami Developer Clashes with Archaeologists When Remnants of Ancientcivilization Are Discovered during Building Project

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Usually when archaeologists discover a significant site containing 2,000-year-old artifacts, it is cause for celebration. But a major find in the heart of Miami has left scientists, developers, and government officials literally caught between a rock and a hard place.

The rock is a piece of limestone bedrock into which an ancient people carved a series of holes that form a perfect 38-foot circle. Archaeologists believe it is part of the foundation of a temple or council house for the Tequesta Indians who populated southeast Florida long before the arrival in 1513 of Ponce de Len, the first of the European explorers.

The problem is that the archaeological dig is in the center of a 2.2-acre piece of prime real estate on the Miami River's south bank, which is slated to house a $100 million high-rise condominium and commercial complex. The city of Miami already issued a building permit, and the developer is ready to start construction. The dilemma: whether to preserve the site as an archaeological treasure or permit the developer to encase much of the site in huge concrete foundation slabs. Efforts have been launched to find a middle ground, like the suggestion that the bedrock structure be cut free, moved, and reassembled at another location. Proponents of keeping the site intact suggest that the developer redesign his project to permit the archaeological exploration to continue undisturbed. Another proposal is to allow the developer to build his project on what is now a public park a block away and move the park to the dig site. So far developer Michael Baumann says his land is not for sale, and he's given archaeologists until Feb. 26 to finish up before his bulldozers and cranes swing into action. "This is a unique piece of human history that no one had ever seen before," says Robert Carr, Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Division director. IT HAS been well documented that the Tequesta populated a major settlement on land that is now Miami. But all evidence placed the settlement on the north bank of the river. This is the first indication that the Tequesta maintained at least one building - perhaps a special temple or meeting house - apart from the main settlement. Estimates are that the circle is 500 to 800 years old. But some artifacts at the site date back 2,000 years. Archaeologists have never before seen this type of bedrock carving at Tequesta settlements. …