MIAMI Feb 4 The unearthing of the remains of a 2,000-year-old
Native American village where downtown Miami meets Biscayne Bay has thrown a
wrench into a multibillion-dollar development project that survived the city's
real estate and financial meltdown.
Archaeologists first discovered the Tequesta Indian site in 2005, when
developers began excavation at what had been a parking lot. Since then they have
uncovered eight circles of holes in the limestone bedrock where supports for
huts may once have stood.
"We're getting a glimpse of what might be one of the earliest town plans in
eastern North America," said archaeologist Robert Carr, who was hired to survey
the site by the developer, Miami-based MDM Development Group.
The ancient site sits in the heart of Miami's latest real estate boom,
surrounded by luxury condo towers with names like Icon and Epic.
Across the street is a luxury JW Marriott Marquis hotel, where professional
basketball players stay when in town to play the Miami Heat, as well as some of
Miami's newest high-end restaurants, where celebrities are spotted nightly.
A similar circle of holes drilled into the rock, called the Miami Circle,
was uncovered nearby in 1998 and is thought to have once been a ceremonial
Tequesta meeting place for the native American tribe. That discovery led to a
developer being forced to sell the land back to the city. The site is now a city
MDM's plans for the site of the newly discovered Tequesta circles include a
movie theater, restaurants and a 34-story hotel covering an entire city block,
including the archaeological site. The tower is part of the four-phase Met Miami
project, which includes the already completed JW Marriott, an office building
anchored by Wells Fargo and a 447-unit condo tower overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Over the past nine years archaeologists have uncovered thousands of
artifacts - as well as human bones - that show the Tequestas conducted trade
with other parts of North America and the Caribbean.
"Accounts by Spanish (explorers) describe huts, a heathen, savage people.
The big surprise is we're finding a very sophisticated people living in one
location for a fairly long period of time," Carr said.
The city of Miami is under pressure to revisit permits issued to the
developer in hopes changing the design to preserve the ancient village. The
city's Historic and Environmental Preservation Board is expected to discuss the
issue at a meeting Tuesday, and a vote could be held later this month.
"MDM's not going to be happy to hear that, but this is very important stuff
for us," said one local historian, Paul George.
Archaeologists also found the foundation of the Royal Palm Hotel at the
site, built in 1897 by industrialist Henry Flagler, who is widely credited with
establishing Miami. Badly damaged in the hurricane of 1926, the Royal Palm was
demolished in 1930.
"In Florida, we started in archeology late," said George. "That's all fill
going back to the 1920s. I love the idea that our original shoreline is
beginning to appear."
The developers have proposed carving out a slab of the limestone holding one
or two of the larger circles on the site and displaying it once the building is
The Historic and Environmental Preservation Board could recommend that the
city take back the property. In a statement, the developer said that would be a
"The cost to us of a full or partial taking of this property is far greater
than the public would ever be willing to spend," MDM said.
"Imposing such a staggering burden on a single company is neither lawful nor
acceptable," it added.
(Editing by David Adams and Douglas Royalty)