Miami Herald gets the low-down on the underground 305 – hidden under Miami streets and condos and neon-lit skyscrapers, there’s a prehistoric village (and a priceless piece of the past) under what’s supposed to become a development project:
Archaeologists who for months have been uncovering mounting evidence of an ancient and extensive Native American village in the middle of downtown Miami have concluded it’s likely one of the most significant prehistoric sites in the United States.
The archaeologists, under the direction of veteran South Florida archaeologist Bob Carr, have so far painstakingly dug up eight large circles comprised of uniformly carved holes in the native limestone that they believe to be foundation holes for Tequesta Indian dwellings dating as far back as 2,000 years.
They have also discovered linear, parallel arrangements of hundreds of such postholes stretching across the site that Carr hypothesizes mark the foundation for other structures, possibly boardwalks connecting the dwellings. The village site borders a rocky outcropping that his team has concluded was the original natural shoreline at the confluence of Biscayne Bay and the Miami River, a spot long ago occluded by fill.
The finds, which have not been widely publicized, have placed public officials and a big downtown developer in a major quandary. The Tequesta village site covers roughly half of a long-vacant, two-acre city block on the north side of the river where the developer, MDM Development Group, plans to build movie theaters, restaurants and a 34-story hotel. The project would cover most of the block, including the full archaeological site.
Carr, who works for MDM, which by law must pay for the archaeological survey, said he has also recommended to his client that as much as possible of the site be preserved in place.
“If you have a necklace filled with pearls, what makes it valuable is its entirety, not four or five pearls,’’ Carr said.
Preservationists note that MDM took a chance when it purchased the property a decade ago because it knew the site was inside a designated archaeological zone. Though the site was covered by an asphalt parking lot for 70 years, Carr and other archaeologists long suspected it was once part of a Tequesta village given previous finds of burial grounds and middens in the immediate vicinity.
The dilemma echoes the battle to save the Miami Circle, a set of postholes discovered by Carr in 1998 on the south bank of the river, opposite the recently uncovered Tequesta village site. Archaeologists concluded the circle marked the site of Tequesta council house or ceremonial structure dating back as far as 2,000 years.
After an international uproar, and facing a suit by preservationists, a developer who planned a condo on the site sold the property to the state for $27 million. It has since been turned into a park, though the circle was buried as a protective measure because the state lacked money to exhibit it properly.
The city’s historic preservation board, which has legal authority over archaeological sites, is scheduled to receive a monthly update on the newest finds — including the discovery of an eighth circle in the past several days — at its regular meeting Tuesday. The board is also expected to set a special meeting within the next two weeks to debate what to do about the Tequesta site.
Preservationists and city board members say there is strong and growing support for measures to save and create a major exhibit around at least some of the archaeological site. State officials say it would likely earn National Historic Landmark status, like the Statue of Liberty and Miami’s Freedom Tower. Some local officials and preservationists believe it might also qualify for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The last paragraph is the kicker.
Carr found the remains of scores of Tequesta people in a burial ground under the third phase, a Whole Foods with a parking garage and residential tower, now under construction. The remains were reburied in an undisclosed location following Florida law.