Reprint Granted: April 16, 05
Dr. Colette M. Dowell ND
Moving Forward Publications
Note: This is a historical article.
THE MIAMI CIRCLE
by Christine Rhone © 1999
NOTE: I have added links to the various tribes and other terms for your information. CMD
The Miami Circle was discovered in late 1998 through a routine investigation by urban archaeologists of a plot of land on the south shore of the Miami River at its mouth to the Atlantic, preliminary to the building of a twin towered one hundred million dollar condominium complex. The site had been occupied since 1948 by a set of apartment buildings, and these had recently been razed. By law, since 1981, local archaeologists have been required to examine such sites and normally they do find items of interest. However, there was little to prepare them for the quality of the find they made there: a perfectly preserved ring of some 30 holes and basins, 38 feet in diameter, in the soft limestone of the terrain. Within the area of the circle were found the remains of a whole shark, head facing west, and those of a sea turtle, head to the east. In addition, some axes of a stone not native to the area, of volcanic basalt, which recent tests have shown to originate from Central America. And, to cap it all off, what seems to be a stone carved in the shape of an eye, and this positioned in a basin at a point due east on the ring. Enough to set the imagination ablaze with possibilities, which were duly speculated upon, as news of the discovery began to hit the local press.
The drama of a developer eager to get his building schedule adhered to, having satisfied the requirements of the statute, together with the public's growing awareness of the significance and uniqueness of the find, made for a situation in late January of growing tension. The developer was adamant in his refusal to sell the property, did not want to consider redesigning his condos to accommodate protection of the circle, but was favorable to the option of having the circle removed from the site, in chunks, to be reassembled elsewhere, perhaps in a museum where it could be viewed by the public. He was also cooperative in extending the deadline for the archaeological work to be completed. Arguments raged back and forth about removing it from its natural setting: at the eleventh hour the head of the firm the developer had hired for the removal refused to bring his power saws in. He thus became an instant hero. A large announcement in a Miami paper reads: "Honoring Joshua Billig, Stonemason, a hero in his own hometown. We're proud that a small businessman can make moral decisions when financial and political leaders can't. "
As the extended deadline approached toward the end of February, members of Indian tribes, many schoolchildren, most of the press, concerned locals, and various flavours of New Age people began to demonstrate their feelings about preservation of the circle in situ. This took the form of vigils, letters to editors, shamanic dances, phone calls to Hillary Clinton, and demonstrations on the Brickell Bridge overlooking the circle site and where stands, appropriately enough, a statue of a Tequesta Indian, the ancient tribe most likely responsible for the circle. On Feb. 10th, a major public meeting was held at the University of Miami, with hundreds in attendance and feeling running very high. Some compared removing the circle to "ripping the heart out of Miami"; others declared themselves ready to be chained to the bulldozers in protest.
As the deadline drew ever more nigh, conflict between the mayor of the city of Miami and the mayor of the county of Miami-Dade grew ever more fraught. The mayor of Miami, whose city was close to bankruptcy only three years ago, had drawn the city back from the brink rather swiftly and was unready to see millions of dollars in tax revenue, which the development represented, vanish from his coffers. The mayor of Miami-Dade county, however, no doubt sensing that popular opinion was in favour, not only locally but by this time well beyond the local range, put his foot down and declared the property seized by eminent domain, to the great joy of the fans, and thus initiating the current phase of the process, a major lawsuit that will take months to resolve. Volunteers are working and trusts have been set up to collect private donations, and the state of Florida has stepped in with its backing. At present the amount of compensation to the developer is undetermined: he paid eight million for the land, plus costs of design and planning, and was quoted at one point as wanting no less than fifty million.
The degree of feeling that the Miami Circle has generated is intense. It is by all means an important find, but it represents something much more. It represents a turning point in the tide of public awareness and may well be instrumental, at least in Florida if not further afield, in changing the laws to do with important archaeological finds, particularly if they are thought to be "sacred sites". Existing legislation is now perceived to be inadequate. Had there been, for example, any human remains on the property, the development would have been automatically blocked. But thus far no human bones have been found, only a few teeth, although bones have apparently been found during previous site excavations.
Reaction to the circle also shows an increasing awareness of the importance of pre-Columbian culture and history in North America, our irreplacable heritage from the Indians. In the midst of the current litigation, Native American groups have legal representation, and have been filing many arguments in support of preservation. Drum groups in many parts of the country are continuing to play to quicken the spiritual awakening focused in Miami. Members of the Mayan Huichol tribe and representatives of the Taino People celebrated the seasonal ritual of the spring equinox at the circle and candlelight services have been held there. A community march to the state capital of Tallahassee was organized in support for Bobby C. Billie, spiritual leader of the Independent Seminole Nation of Florida, who spoke eloquently and movingly in support of preservation, voicing the feelings of many people with these simple words: "I ask you to protect sacred ground." A statement from representatives of the Taino People sums it up like this: "The Miami Circle contains the sacred soul of the continent" and calls for a stop to the destruction of antiquities not just in Florida, but all over the world. The Taino People are related linguistically to the Timucua Indians of north Florida and the former Calusa tribe of the west, whose antiquities were discussed in Site Saver of Winter 1998.
Robert Ghost Wolf, President of Wolflodge and Native Elder, spoke on the Art Bell Show saying that the circle is created in the same style as the Chaco Canon Kivas and proposed that it could be a "missing link" in a world-wide legacy of a vanished technology. One indication of this technology would be the apparent remains of a mysterious underground shaft, some 30 feet in diameter and more than 60 feet deep, found on the site in the mid-1940s and then covered over. Ghost Wolf also believes that erosion patterns would push the age of the Miami Circle back to 10 to 13 thousand years before present.
Official archaeological work on the Miami Circle is by no means complete and will take another couple of years to finish. In March, the results were announced of radiocarbon tests on two pieces of charcoal found within one of the thirty basins on the circumference: these have been dated to 1800 to 2100 years before present, a good confirmation that there was activity at the circle site at that time. Pottery shards found on the property appear to be about 500 to 800 years old, and this suggests that the site may have been occupied for the entire intervening period, that is, between ca.100 BC and ca.1500 AD. More tests are now underway of eight other artifacts found in or near the circle. Archaeologists currently believe that the circle is the remains of a round council building or a temple.
The questions of possible alignments and calendrical significance remain open. On the perimeter of the circle, due east, is a basin containing a stone carved in the shape of an eye, or roughly a circle inside a vesica piscis, geometrically speaking. It has been proposed that this is one of four points that would comprise an east-west axis, a reference to the equinoxes. The other points would be two postholes, each one positioned exactly 41 feet from the center of the circle. This axis, plus another alignment that would mark the solstices, was first suggested by surveyor T. L. Riggs, who knows the area well and has an intuitive affinity for it. He also believes that the varying shapes of the basins are meant to represent animals and that the whole ring was a calendar, perhaps built by the Mayans. Robert Carr, the senior county archaeologist in charge of studies at the site, seems favorably inclined at least to the equinoctial axis interpretation. General caution is recommended by Anthony Aveni, professor of astronomy, who points out that there are hundreds of postholes on the 2.2 acre site. Riggs has also found what he says are stones that fit into the postholes in the immediate vicinity. Carr is not convinced that these stones were related to the circle; they may be the remains of an old quarry. In early February, Richard Hoagland, known for his theories on the monuments of Mars, flew in to examine the circle and positioned it in a worldwide system of significant places; others are linking it to a global system by studying its numbers and measures, and in particular its diameter.
The area of the Miami Circle at the mouth of the river has long been known to be archaeologically significant as the site of an ancient Tequesta village. On the opposite bank used to stand a gigantic burial mound, razed late last century to make way for a fine hotel, a fate similar to that of the many hundreds of the huge mounds that used to dot Florida's coasts. The last surviving members of the Tequesta, who lived in Florida before the Seminoles arrived and whose artifacts are scarce, were deported to Cuba in the 18th century, around the time the last of the Calusa died out or vanished into the deeper wilds of the Everglades.
Fatefully again, it was in the very site of the Miami Circle where Robert Carr, as a young boy, found his first artifacts, and these early finds eventually inspired him to become an archaeologist. After working for years balancing the interest of preservation and that of development, and on the very eve of his retirement, the discovery of the circle has thrust him overnight into the public eye. "For me," he said, "it begins and ends right here at the riverbank."
The sense of cycles closing and the resurgence of a forgotten civilization are echoed in a proposal now being considered in Washington, which would incorporate the Miami Circle site into Biscayne National Park. This underwater park stretches from Key Biscayne, just outside Miami, all the way to Key Largo, the last of the Florida keys, and encompasses an area including many small keys where Tequesta remains have been found. To support inclusion of the circle in the National Parks System, fax Senator Bob Graham (202) 224-2237 and Senator Connie Mack (202) 224-8022.
Many individual volunteers and groups have been working tirelessly to save the circle, among which are The Sierra Club, Wolflodge, TribaLink International, The Urban Environmental League, and Dade County Heritage Trust. A major summer solstice celebration is planned at Brickell Park, very near the circle, for June the 20th, with international speakers and a gala fund-raising music fest. To make a donation to save the Miami Circle and prevent the words of Joni Mitchell's song "They've paved Paradise and turned it into a parking lot" from becoming true again, write to Dade Heritage Trust "Save Our Circle Fund", 190 S.E. 12th Terrace, Miami, FL 33131. On-line petitions and websites on the circle include www.tribalink.com, www.wolflodge.org, and www.historical-museum.org/history/circle.
By Christine Rhone
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