The developer knew the risks going in—MDM Development Group bought the land in downtown Miami, Florida a decade ago full well knowing it sat inside a designated archaeological zone.
Now, after months of discovery, archaeologists are saying the find is one of the most significant prehistoric sites in the country and that it should be preserved.
So far, they have dug up eight uniform circles they believe to be foundation holes for Tequesta Indian dwellings that date as far back as 2,000 years, reports the Miami-Herald.
“What’s unusual and unique about the site is that it’s this huge chunk of land where a major part of this ancient Tequesta village site is preserved,’’ Bob Carr, the veteran South Florida archaeologist leading the dig, told the Miami-Herald. “It’s one of the earliest urban plans in eastern North America. You can actually see this extraordinary configuration of these buildings and structures.’’
What archaeologists are finding covers about half of a two-acre spot that MDM has long planned to build develop. Now those plans may have to change to preserve some or all of this site.
A network of holes lay out the foundations of a Tequesta village. The tribe lived in what is now metro Miami until the 1700s, and the holes held pine posts that framed their thatched buildings.
The current plans call for movie theaters, restaurants and a 34-story hotel that would cover most of the two acres, including the Tequesta village. But a final building permit has yet to be granted, as the City of Miami waits to learn about the Tequesta village.
The Miami-Herald reports that State of Florida and historic preservation officials from Miami-Dade County are pushing to preserve the site and to consider alternative building plans, which would be costly.
CNN reports that the developer has proposed taking a section of the lot and rebuilding a Tequesta dwelling using the original post holes. The display would be based on all the findings and artifacts discovered by Carr and his team.
“The point of it is to create knowledge—not just to save things but to understand them,” Gene Stearns, a lawyer for the Metropolitan Miami developers, told CNN. “The company’s plan would allow the public to learn more about the site than they would if the site were simply preserved as is.”
Stearns referred to the Miami Circle, a site discovered by Carr in 1998 on the opposite bank of the river in relation to the current Tequesta site. The Miami-Herald reported that the developer sold the land to the state for $27 million after preservationists fought to save it. The site was turned into a park and made a National Historic Landmark, but the state lacked money to exhibit the circle properly so it was buried as a protective measure.
This image of the Miami Circle in downtown Miami, Florida was taken in 2011.
Some fear not preserving the entire site is a mistake because the integrity of the site could be lost. “If you have a book and you tear out a chapter, you lose the integrity of the book,” Ryan Franklin, of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, told CNN Miami affiliate WFOR.
Any plans for the Tequesta village site will need to be approved by Miami’s Historic Preservation Board, which meets February 14, and then also the City Commission.