Archaeological discoveries continue in Downtown Miami
Amidst the high-rises of Downtown Miami, archaeologists are taking a giant step back in time as they piece together evidence of the only known prehistoric permanent structure cut into the bedrock in the United States.
Located at the mouth of the Miami River and shoehorned between high-rise office and condominium structures – 401 Brickell Avenue – once held an apartment complex. But in 1998, developer Michael Baumann, purchased the land to build luxury condominiums. Months later as the demolition of the old apartment complex began, the developer was required to commission a routine archaeological field survey before beginning construction. The Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Division, along with a host of volunteers and employees of the Archaeological & Historical Conservancy, conducted the salvage of the site.
That’s when they discovered a number of holes cut into the limestone bedrock. Excavation revealed there were 24 holes forming a perfect circle in the limestone. Careful examination of the earth revealed numerous archaeological artifacts, ranging from shell-tools and stone axeheads to human teeth and charcoal fires.
The holes may have been postholes for some kind of structure, probably a cone-shaped building with a opening in the top. It is thought that given the rainy weather common across Florida and resulting flooding, the early people may have raised the structure on stilts.
Researchers next tried to determine the purpose of the structure. Two obvious uses were living quarters, or a ceremonial/religious building. The lack of evidence of day-to-day living suggested this was the site of a ceremonial building. The effort necessary to create such a structure would involve considerable teamwork, particularly given the lack of tools which would lead one to believe this was a religious or ceremonial building.
It is believed the site was the location of a structure built by the Tequesta or Tekesta Indians, in what was possibly their capital. In order to date the site, pieces of burnt wood were sent for radiocarbon dating. The results showed the wood was between 1800-2000 years old.
Take a quick look at this 3D virtual architectural view of the entire site developed or being considered for development. Now imagine the ancient Tequestas first impressions if they could be brought forward in time and returned to their community on the shores of the Miami River. Click here to view. Miami River Front Development
The Tequesta were a primarily nomadic tribe, hunting fish and alligators in the Florida Everglades. They are thought to have killed many early European explorer who attempted landfall in Florida. The Tequesta, like many other Native Americans, succumbed to the new infectious diseases brought to their shores by European colonists. Additional items that may have been place in or buried under the structure were a complete 5-foot long shark skeleton, aligned east to west, a dolphin skull, and a carapace of a sea turtle.
Oops… excuse me. There’s someone at the door.
Continuing: The developer Baumann, offered to pay to relocate the Circle to another site for preservation. But the public opposition grew, with groups ranging from archaeologists and Native Americans to school children protesting that the removal could potentially destroy one of the most archaeologically significant finds in North American. Baumann ultimately sold the site to the state for a profit.
The Historical Museum of Southern Florida now known as HistoryMiami signed a forty-four year lease for the site in 2008. On February 5, 2002, the Circle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2009. The site was used as the inspiration for a fictional adventure comedy, Miami Mummies: A Wendy Darlin Comedy Mystery, featuring Wendy Darlin, Miami real estate broker and part-time tomb raider.
On February 3, 2014, the Miami Herald reported additional postholes had been excavated in Downtown Miami, further indicating the presence of ancient habitation along the north shore of the Miami River. The archaeologists have 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 called the area one of the most significant prehistoric sites in the United States as they continue to collect mounting evidence of a large Native American village in the middle of and under Downtown Miami. Parallel lines of hundreds of such postholes stretching across the site may possibly mark the foundation for boardwalks connecting the dwellings, which is a fascinating concept to imagine… a 2,000 year-old River Walk. The village site sits near a rocky shelf that may have been the original natural shoreline at the convergence of Biscayne Bay and the Miami River, a spot now host to an ever-changing bevy of mega-yachts.
The Tequesta village site covers roughly half of a long-vacant, city block where a developer plans to build a thirty-four story hotel, movie theaters, and restaurants. The project would cover most of the block including the archaeological 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 Statute of Liberty and Miami’s Freedom Tower.
Archaeologists found the remains of scores of Tequesta people in a burial ground under the third phase of the site, a Whole Foods with a parking garage and residential tower, now under construction. The remains were reburied in an undisclosed location following Florida law. The archaeological discoveries in Downtown Miami are a fascinating time-capsule going back to the pyramids and perhaps longer.