The Significance of the
Tekesta Miami Circle

From the Fall of 1998 to February, 1999, archaeological work on the Miami Circle site was being headed by the Miami-Dade County's Historic Preservation Division. Its Director, archaeologist Bob Carr, said the work had so far "generated more questions than answers." Only 40 square feet of the 2.3 acre site have been studied, and undoubtedly a great deal has yet to discovered. This is an important site associated with the capitol town, Tekesta, which at one time probably held thousands of houses (to judge by the case of the Calos), some of which would represented important structures like the Miami Circle. All artifacts are held in public trust by the Historical Museum of South Florida.

The major feature of the site is a circular formation formed by 24 basins cut irregularly in the Eolithic limestone bedrock, and surrounding it another circle with 300 incised postholes. The archaeologists investegated this thirty-eight-foot (12-meter) circle and sifted the backhoe material for artifacts. At first the structure was assumed to have been made shortly before contact, which is to say, in the 12th to 16th centuries, but subsequent radio-carbon dating suggests the site is much older.

Reuters for 9 March reports that John Ricisak, a Miami-Dade County historic preservation specialist, has found that that the carbon-dating tests done on two small bits of charcoal, probably created by Tekesta fires in one of the basins that form the circle, was 1,800 to 2,100 years old, A charcoal sample found in the earth that covered the circle was 1,850 to 1,990 years old. Ricisak notes that while the sample proves the site was occupied 2,000 years ago, the Circle itself may not been that old. But given that the charcoal was in basins carved into the bedrock makes it appear that this is indeed the age of the Circle, in which case it is likely a stratified hierarchical society existed in Miami at the beginning of the Christian era, well before the Calusa reached a comparable level of development.

Carr's team has also found the shell of a sea turtle, beads, pottery shards, a carving of what has been described as a human eye, and the remains of a five-foot shark carefully buried, as well as four human teeth. The latter suggest the site might be a place of human burial, and if and when archaeologists manage to gain access to the entirety of the site, the question might be resolved.

Until then, the function of this site is unknown, but clearly it is much more significant than just a home. It appears to have been some kind of sacret site, less likey to have been a council house. Traditional Tekesta building techniques would explain the post holes, and perhaps it was a temple, a charnel house, or possibly the big house of a cacique (chief or paramount). However, any further investigation to discover the site's purpose was ended by the Mayor and developer.

It seems that the Miami Circle site was abandoned by 1200 A.D. Archaeologist Bob Carr wonders why. Artifacts show that the rest of the town continued, but only on the north side of the river. Did the Tequesta draw back from the south side for reasons of defense? Or was it, as Carr has speculated, in response to a religious fervor that swept the Southeast at the time? That may have prompted the Tekesta to alter their religious practices, deactivating the Miami Circle site to find only occasional use as a cermonial or possibly a burial location.

Whatever its original purpose, the site in the nineteenth century became the location of a European trading post, and was finally overlaid by a century of commercial development in recent times. In any case, this is certainly the only archaeologically documented Tekesta structure. So far, Miami-Dade County's largest archaeological dig is the Granada site (where the Hyatt Hotel is presently located) diagonally across the Miami River. Much of the original capitol town of Tekesta is undoubtedly lost to us forever beneath the City's streets.

So many puzzles remain. One is that stones appear to have been carefully placed in the holes at the eastern, western and southern points of the circle, suggesting it had some ideological or astronomical significance. The original site surveyer offered suggestions along these lines, but a more mundane explanation is preferred by scholars. The shark backbone, perfectly perserved within the circle, also points its head to the west and tail to the east, much like a human burial.

Another puzzle are the large quantities of flint and the two ax heads fashioned from basalt found at the site. Neither type of stone occurs naturally in South Florida. The two closest sources of the basalt would have been the Appalachian mountains of eastern North America, attesting to an exchange network connecting Florida to the rest of North America earlier than hitherto believed, or the the Mayan highlands of Guatemala, suggesting an even more exotic connection (Mayan artifacts are unknown from the Caribbean and Florida, and the Mayan preferred better types of stone for carving). Hopewellian influences on Lake Okeechobee from about 500 A.D., about three centuries after the Miami Circle, suggests the existence at that time of exchange relations connecting Florida to the North.

At the County Commission hearing that voted on 18 February to sue the developer for eminant domain, Carr said, "What we don't know is the exact function of the site." "That is going to take time and work." However, the county's lawsuit prevents any further archaeological investigation until such time as the public can acquire it. If the court allows that, archaeologists will explore the Circle and surrounding area further, and since the work has barely begun, undoubted much more will be learned.