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Backyard Archaeologist’s Miami Property Valued at Nearly $2M, But He’ll Never Sell

A scrap of property near the heart of Miami is valued at nearly $2M, but the owner refuses to sell to protect the archaeological treasures there.

A scrap of property near the heart of Miami is valued at nearly $2 million, but the owner refuses to sell to protect the archaeological treasures uncovered on the lot, reports the Miami Herald.

Ishmael Bermudez, 64, wants to keep his property out of the reach of developers. He claims it sits on a site of importance to the Tequesta people, one of the first Indian groups that the Spanish encountered when they arrived in North America.

The property, located at 87 SW 11th Street, is wedged between a 7-Eleven and a luxury high-rise apartment complex and around the corner from bustling Brickell Rail Station. Property records show that the lot measures 5,000 square feet in area, and Bermudez’s three-bedroom home covers less than a fifth of that area.

Bermudez, who also calls himself “Golden Eagle,” has lived most of his life on the property. As reported by the Miami Herald, he began digging in the yard when he was 12 years old, and through the years he has dug up a variety of implements, including bones, tools wrought from shells, wooden figurines, a whistle made of horn, as well as a spring, which Bermudez believes is sacred and possesses healing properties, and linearly aligned round holes in the limestone bedrock.

The Colombia-born backyard archaeologist appears to be handling his excavation work with care. He uses a variety of tools employed by professional archaeologists, such as sieves (sifters) and small paintbrushes. He also is photographically documenting his work and finds (a collection of these photos can be found on Bermudez’s “Well of Ancient Mysteries” Facebook page).

Through the years, hundreds have visited Bermudez’s property to see his discoveries, even some archaeologists, the Miami Herald reported. Archaeologist Bob Carr, who supervised excavation work at Miami Circle at the Brickell Point Site in 1998, has gone there several times. He told the Miami Herald that Bermudez’s work is “admirable” and that some of the artifacts are indeed associated with the Tequesta.

Facebook/Well of Ancient Mysteries

This home near the heart of Miami, belonging to Ismael Bermudez, is valued at nearly $2 million.

Jorge Zamanillo, HistoryMiami’s museum director, had accompanied Carr to the property about 10 years ago. He said Bermudez has done a “great job,” but pointed out an issue with his approach. “When archaeologists excavate a site, there is a controlled scientific method. You go layer by layer, analyzing and mapping and documenting each layer of soil, even if you are not finding anything. You want to see patterns, any disturbances, or any changes in the soil colors and what is surrounding it,” Zamanillo said. “A lot of that was probably lost when he [Bermudez] excavated it over the years and continued down to the bedrock.”

The Miami Circle site, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009, was a primary Tequesta village, according to the National Park Service. The site dates back to 500 B.C. to 900 A.D. and may have been last occupied by the Tequesta as late as 1513. While it yielded thousands of artifacts, one of the most significant finds was the Miami Circle, a series of postholes and basins carved into the limestone in a circular formation. Located on the south bank of the mouth of the Miami River, the site is within walking distance to Bermudez’s property.

From 2013 through 2014, remnants of a significant Tequesta village were unearthed at the mouth of the Miami River, opposite the Miami Circle site, when MDM Development Group conducted a pre-construction archaeological survey of its Metropolitan Miami project site. Most of the finds were in the boundaries of the Met Square site, an entertainment, hotel, residential, and retail complex. Remains from other time periods were also found, such as those of the Royal Palm Hotel, the city’s first mega resort. The discovery brought the project to a stop, as local cultural preservationists sought to protect the site. But with the help of a mediator, a compromise was agreed upon in March 2014, according to the Miami Herald.

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Zamanillo said that with this agreement MDM has not only set aside gallery space, to be operated by HistoryMiami, to showcase some of the artifacts, but also one of seven circles unearthed will be on display, where it was found, beneath a glass-covered floor, and other circles will be preserved behind a glass wall.

“It is probably one of the most significant agreements in the past years,” he said. “In the past, it has been all or nothing. You either preserve the entire site or you destroy it.”

ICTMN contacted Bermudez, but he declined our request for an interview. We also reached out to the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes. The Seminole declined to participate in the story, saying that it has no connection to the Tequesta. The Miccosukee did not return our request for an interview before publication.