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Subject: Miami; Indian site inspires more Emotions than Donations (fwd)
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Date: 26 Nov 1999 08:26:28 GMT
From: ricardo a gonzalez <email@example.com>
Subject: Miami; Indian site inspires more Emotions than Donations
Miami; Indian site inspires more Emotions than Donations
The Washington Post
27 November 1999
Indian Site Inspires More Emotion Than Donations
As Deadline Nears, Miami Struggles to 'Save the Circle'
By Sue Anne Pressley Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 1999; Page A03
MIAMI - For centuries, the Tequesta Indians were here, right where the Miami
River flows into Biscayne Bay and the manatees and tugboats hurry by, long
before the appearance of the big, bleached-white banks and hotels of downtown.
What they left behind, discovered only last year on a waterfront demolition
site, was a circular formation of great mystery that seemed to fire emotions
around the world. It was quickly dubbed the Miami Circle, and efforts to
preserve it united a variety of groups in this often fractious city. To
supporters, the discovery gave America a new archaeological cachet, and Miami
something it had never entertained before: a vision of a distant past.
Now, the ongoing rescue of the Miami Circle has reached a critical point.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and others need to nail down the final $2
million of a $20 million payment due Tuesday; without it, the prime waterfront
property could revert to a developer.
"I'm guardedly optimistic. I'm making a public appeal everywhere I go because
this is so important," Penelas said this week.
Penelas may have averted a crisis--at least for the time being. In a memo to
county commissioners in preparation for their meeting Monday, Penelas said the
Trust for Public Land has offered to make a loan to complete the purchase, the
Miami Herald reported yesterday. But the commissioners will have to approve the
loan, and fund-raising efforts will have to continue.
An attorney for the owner, Brickell Point Ltd., said he is certain that
Miami-Dade County will come through with the court-ordered payment. "There's
nothing to say," Toby Brigham said Wednesday. "The court has entered an order,
and I trust the parties will honor that order."
Otherwise, he said, the owner will be free to proceed with original plans for
the property--the construction of twin residential towers more than 40 stories
The Miami Circle, or at least the artifact-rich site on which it sits, could
date back 2,000 years, archaeologists said. A perfect circle of low, carved
limestone, about 38 feet in diameter, it was uncovered by county archaeologists
after six apartment buildings on the site had been demolished--and just before
developer Michael Baumann was to begin construction on the twin towers to
Immediately, some supporters imbued the circle, and its surrounding field, with
a mystical significance, noting how some of the alignments squared with the
sun. Others rather breathlessly proclaimed the discovery "America's
Stonehenge." A stream of faxes, telephone calls and e-mails poured in from
people around the world urging its preservation, and a motley collection of
protesters gathered daily in a campaign to "Save the Circle."
The Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, which unites the
Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations, joined the fight,
passing a resolution of support for "our sacred religious sites" and condemning
those who would allow the circle to be lost "for the sake of redundant
The Miami-Dade County Commission filed an eminent domain lawsuit in February
that allowed it to take the property in exchange for payment of its fair-market
value--$26.7 million. This was done after Baumann had suggested he would pay to
have the formation moved to another spot, an offer that brought fresh howls of
Supporters rejoiced that the circle appeared to be saved. But when it came to
raising the $20 million down payment, contributions only trickled in. Most of
the big money so far has come from state and county funds, although no taxpayer
dollars are being used. The protesters also drifted away, leaving behind a
chain-link entranceway draped in signs and strips of cloth and a makeshift
Despite the last-minute trepidation, county officials and preservationists
involved in the effort said the experience has been a good one--and a rare
experiment for Miamians.
"While the case has the familiar ring of pitting preservationists against
developers, what is unusual here is that that has never happened in Miami, a
city only a century old that has had only a fleeting love affair with its
history, and has rarely reached past the economic glitter and tinsel of the
South Beach Art Deco District," said archaeologist Robert S. Carr, one of the
discoverers of the circle and a consultant to Miami-Dade on the project. "The
circle has become the anchor and resonance of Miami's lost heritage."
Carbon dating of artifacts found on the site suggests it is at least 2,000
years old. The items provide a clearer picture of life among the Tequestas.
According to Carr and others, the group existed as early as 500 B.C., but
reached its heyday between 1200 A.D. and 1600 A.D. The Tequestas were
comparable to Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest in their water-based
lifestyle, busy with fishing and canoeing.
Explorer Ponce de Leon made note of the Tequestas in 1513, when they may have
numbered 20,000, spread over an expanse of South Florida that stretched from
Key West in the south to Palm Beach in the north to the Everglades in the west.
But by the mid-1700s, an English writer who ventured here found only 300
Tequestas left, and most of them were eventually shipped off to Cuba.
"They were never conquered by the Spanish," Carr said. "What did conquer them
was the germ--smallpox."
On a clear morning this week, as workers hurried into the surrounding banks and
guests checked out of the neighboring hotels, county archaeologist John Ricisak
and state archaeologist Ryan Wheeler sifted through the artifacts they have
found so far. There was a dark-brown scrap of pottery; a bead made of a
lead-like substance from the Great Lakes region, suggesting the Tequestas were
involved in some long-distance trading; and an arrowhead, indicating perhaps
that Tequestas, although not known as warriors, were prepared to defend
"There's definitely a lot of material here," said Wheeler, who is preparing a
report for Gov. Jeb Bush (R) that says 70 percent of the 2.2-acre site could
yield valuable artifacts.
Although plenty of animal bones have been found, he said, there have been no
discoveries of human remains.
Both archaeologists believe the circle itself was the foundation of some kind
of important Tequesta structure, perhaps a meeting house or temple. Holes
carved into the limestone could have been used for supporting poles; there may
have been a thatched roof. The capacity was about two dozen people.
If the $20 million payment goes through as planned, the site could eventually
become a historical park, perhaps with a museum on its west end. The
archaeologists would approve.
"It's a very, very unusual situation," said Ricisak, the county's field
director for the project. "Archaeologists are used to working in obscurity, not
with television helicopters overhead and people lined up along the gate talking
to you with bullhorns.
"This, I think everybody recognizes, is a once-in-a-lifetime event," he said.
"I don't know if the county is going to make a habit of stepping in like this,
but I'm thankful for it. Because I don't think they made a mistake."
Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company