Latest reports say Miami Circle part of trade village
By Marilyn Bowden
Growing evidence from the Miami Circle site suggests Brickell Point once housed a large aboriginal village with far-flung trading links, according to new reports from several archaeologists.
The reports, collected in a special issue of The Florida Anthropologist, make a solid case for antiquity and human origin of the site on the south bank of the Miami River where it empties into Biscayne Bay, said editor Ryan J. Wheeler, state supervisor of archaeological research.
"I'm getting a lot of calls from subscribers who said they were skeptical," he said. "They say they're now convinced it's real."
The stone circle was uncovered in 1999 during excavation to build a condominium. The state purchased the land for preservation more than a year ago for $26.7 million, and last month an 18-member Miami Circle Planning Group was formed to decide on the Miami Circle's future. That group has yet to meet.
The excavation is described in detail by Bob Carr, chief county archaeologist when the Miami Circle was uncovered, and John Ricisak, his successor, in the magazine's lead article.
Although settlement's original size is unknown, they wrote, "discoveries of prehistoric material in the area suggest that it originally extended from the river southward along Biscayne Bay for at least 1,000 feet, encompassing properties currently occupied by the Sheraton Hotel, a public park and the First Presbyterian Church of Miami, and westward along the river for at least 1,500 feet to the vicinity of the present-day Miami Avenue Bridge."
Though the Miami Circle itself, a feature so far unique to Southeastern pre-Columbian sites, was unexpected, evidence of a significant village was not. Christopher Eck, director of the county's office of community & economic development, contributed an article describing visits to the site by archaeologist Jeffries Wyman in 1869.
Mr. Carr, now executive director of the Archaeological & Historical Conservancy, said radiocarbon dating on additional artifacts pushes the earliest date of the site's habitation to 400 BC.
"We're also finding more and more exotic trade items that came from different parts of North America," he said, "reinforcing the importance of the Circle area in terms of trade and social status.
"Trade is more extensive and sophisticated than people had thought. It's just becoming clear how early trade routes developed around the world over long distances using relatively primitive means of transport."
Beads, tools and pottery fragments point to trade with points further north, perhaps as far away as the Great Lakes, according to several articles in the issue. The absence of artifacts from South America, Mr. Carr said, tends to refute a popular theory that ancient Mayans developed the site.
Mr. Carr and Mr. Ricisak detailed a thorough investigation into the origins of the holes in the limestone that constitute the Miami Circle. Some archaeologists suspected they were natural features, since limestone is very porous. Others postulated they were created in the early 1950s for installation of septic tanks for the Brickell Point Apartments, which were leveled several years ago to make way for a large condo project. One septic tank intercepted the Miami Circle's features.
The regularity of holes alternating large and small holes, more or less evenly spaced argue for a human origin, Mr. Carr and Mr. Ricisak say. Further excavation in the nearby Valley of Holes revealed open basins in various stages of completion. Striation marks show some sort of tool was used, they write but they differ markedly from the circular saw marks visible where the septic tanks were installed.
Mr. Carr said he plans to write a final report in about a year when the analysis of artifacts found so far is finished. He said he's also working on a book about the site that will have more popular appeal.
Mr. Wheeler, who contributed an article called "Brickell Point and the Miami Circle," said further excavation of the 2.2-acre property would probably not be undertaken until the prodigious amount of material already collected has been sorted and classified.
He said part of a grant to the Historical Museum of Southern Florida to develop a new exhibit will help fund the analysis.
"We're doing preliminary washing and sorting," he said.
In the meantime, "we still need to do something with the way the Circle is covered," he said. "The last time we removed the plastic cover some water was accumulating in the basins.
"It wasn't degrading very rapidly. But it would be nice to not have it accumulate water at all."