Miami Circle

By Christine Rhone

When we see how many historic and sacred sites all over the world continue to be disrespected and destroyed, it is heartening to know that the Miami Circle has been saved and will be preserved for future generations. In the words of Ryan J. Wheeler, Archaeology Supervisor of the Florida Bureau of Archeological Research, “I think that the public outcry was absolutely essential to the preservation and acquisition of the Miami Circle. This is an example of democracy in action — the people spoke and their elected officials responded.”

The Miami Circle was first uncovered in 1998 through the routine archaeological monitoring of a recently cleared property that had been slated for new development. The property lies on the juncture of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay at Brickell Point. This was the site of a regionally important village of the Tequestas, the American Indian inhabitants at the time of European contact. The discovery in the city of Miami of the 38 foot diameter circle of holes and basins that suggests an east-west orientation and includes the remains of a sea turtle and a shark gripped the imagination of many people and fired them to action. The media played up the events with zest. Protest marches, websites, and Save-the-Circle organizations sprang up, along with a deluge of letters, e-mails, and phone calls to government offices. As a result, the site of the Miami Circle was bought from the developer with funds raised from county, state, and private sources.

The official report of fieldwork undertaken since 1999 was published in a special issue of “The Florida Anthropologist” in December 2000. According to this report, archaeological features and deposits occupy 70% of the 2.2 acre property, with 35% of it containing intact midden deposits. The ancient stone tools found in or near the circle are made of a basalt that has been traced to the vicinity of Macon, Georgia. Hundreds of holes on the site are contemporaneous with the circle, many of them concentrated in an area known as the “Valley of the Holes”. The circle is thought to be a series of postholes that would have held supports for a building of some kind, perhaps one larger than the circle. The turtle is indeed oriented east-west and appears to have been buried as a ritual offering at a very early date. Radiocarbon dates ranging from 365 B.C. to 1680 A.D. were taken from materials on top of the bedrock or from within the basins and thus do not directly date the construction of the circle. The age of the circle itself is estimated to be roughly 2000 years before present.

In early 2001, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris appointed an 18-member group to guide the long-term management of the Miami Circle that includes the Chairmen of the Seminole Nation and of the Miccosukee Tribe. The general plan is to create a public park featuring the Miami Circle for the study, conservation, and appreciation of this unique cultural resource in its original location.

Christine Rhone is a writer, editor, and translator currently living in England. See her original story on The Miami Circle, Site Saver, Volume X, No. 1, Fall 1999. She is also author of Amazing Amerindian Antiquities of Old Florida, in Site Saver, Volume VIII, No. 2, Winter 1998.

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