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16 December 1999
Miami Circle finally saved

Miami-Dade County recently accepted a loan from the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land to the tune of $8.7 million to purchase the Miami Circle. The perfect circle of low, carved limestone, about 38 feet in diameter, was uncovered by county archaeologists after six apartment buildings on the site had been demolished, and just before developers were to begin construction on twin residential towers more than 40 stories tall to replace them.
      The 8.5% interest rate makes the county's commissioners sweat, but the conservation organization's eleventh-hour offer was too good to pass up. Now the county will pay the full $26.7 million to developer Michael Baumann up front. Miami-Dade will have two years to repay the loan.
      Amid questions raised by University of Florida professor Jerald Milanich as to whether the Circle meant 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" 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 across the property. Scarp cleaning and profiling previously excavated trenches has revealed bone and shell artifacts, potsherds dating from 500 BCE to 1000 CE, and debitage from canoe-making. Excavation of another septic tank is in progress.
      Four new radiocarbon dates from within the Circle date to around 167 CE 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."
      The site could eventually become a historical park, perhaps with a museum on its west end. The archaeologists would approve.

Sources: Archaeological Institute of America (23 November and 1 December, 1999), Washington Post (1 December, 1999)

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