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Miami Circle $2 Million Short November 23, 1999
by Elizabeth J. Himelfarb

Miami-Dade County agreed on October 1 to buy the Miami Circle from developer Michael Baumann for $26.7 million. To date, the State of Florida has pledged $15 million and a county parks program has offered $3 million, leaving the private sector to come up with $2 million in time for a $20-million payment due November 30.

If that money doesn't materialize, Baumann will be free to resume his development plans and could sue the county for millions of dollars in legal fees. "We would have lost not only a valuable archaeological space, but also the opportunity to further investigate," said Robert Carr, executive director of Miami-Dade's Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, hastening to add, "I'm an eternal optimist, so I believe that the money will fall into place."

Sally Jude of the Miami Urban League, a local civic group coordinating the fundraising effort, said that $50,000-100,000 has been raised privately since the plight of the Circle first became a media darling late last year. That's a far cry from $2 million, and politicians are starting to sweat, as evidenced by a recent bout of finger pointing. Two Miami-Dade commissioners have gone on record criticizing local Native American tribes successful in the casino business for not contributing to the Circle fund.

"This kind of public archaeology confuses politicians," Carr said. "There is no real connection between the Tequesta [who archaeologists believe built the Miami Circle] and the [modern] Seminole Miccosukees."

Amid questions raised in ARCHAEOLOGY by University of Florida professor Jerald Milanich as to whether the Circle might merely be a septic tank drain field, the state of Florida has sent archaeologists back in for three weeks' investigation before the deal is clinched; since February, scientists had been barred from the site while the courts debated its fate.

"It is my impression that any lingering doubts as to the authenticity of the Circle feature exist primarily in the political realm and have been inspired, perhaps entirely, by Dr. Milanich and his article in your magazine [September/October, p. 22-25]," said John Ricisak, an archaeologist with the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Division and field director of the Miami Circle Project.

The last round of study, conducted at the end of November, comprised 80 auger tests and some backhoe work. This latest survey turned up middens to the west of the Circle and more cut holes in limestone--potentially other features--across the property. Scarp cleaning and profiling previously excavated trenches has revealed bone and shell artifacts, potsherds dating from 500 B.C. to A.D. 1000, and debitage from canoe-making. Excavation of another septic tank is in progress.

Four new radiocarbon dates from within the Circle date to around A.D. 167 and show no modern intrusion. A fifth date, of a shark skeleton found just below the surface, is about 500 years old, "suggesting," the Dade County Historic Preservation Division said in a released statement, "that the ceremonial importance of the Circle...continued through the period of Spanish contact."

* See also our feature, "What was the Miami Circle?"

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America