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17 October 2003
Miami circle has been reburied

Miami Circle (USA) archaeological find has been reburied. The dig, discovered in 1998 amid much controversy, has been covered up again - possibly for years - while officials figure out how to open it to the public, which paid $26.7 million to preserve it.
     Prominent archaeologist Robert Carr said the ancient 38-foot-wide stone carving is eroding and must be protected from the elements as several agencies spar over how to prepare the downtown site for public access. Carr and others said state and local officials who mustered the will - and found the money - to save the site at the mouth of the Miami River have proved unable to agree on a plan to exhibit it. "This is being done with the idea of not easily uncovering it for people to see," said Carr. "It's an acknowledgement that it could be a year or three years, we just don't know how long, before the county and the state are ready to open it to the public."
     Though the Circle has been shrouded from time to time by tarpaulin or other material, the latest action is viewed as a more permanent reburial and a disappointing phase of a discovery that once sparked the imaginations of schoolchildren and others.
     Believed to have been created more than 2,000 years ago by the now extinct Tequesta Indians, the Circle is considered a cultural treasure by many scientists and preservationists. But only small groups of experts or others, after making special arrangements, have been able to visit the archaeological site in the heart of Miami's business district.
     And now, the Circle has been reburied;  Carr and other archaeologists - responding to a request by state officials - inserted bags of limestone gravel into the 26 carved basins that form the Circle. Then they covered the carving with a uniform level of gravel, an impermeable tarpaulin and a layer of white sand. Carr called it 'the layer-cake effect.'
     Michael Spring, director of Miami-Dade County's Department of Cultural Affairs and a leading advocate of opening the site, expressed frustration over the turn of events and blamed it largely on state officials. The state contributed $15 million to help purchase the Circle and its 2.2-acre site on the southern bank of the Miami River east of Brickell Avenue. In return, the state gained ownership of the property. The other $11.7 million came from the county.
     So, what went wrong? "Call the state and ask them," Spring said with a sigh. "They have all kinds of rules, regulations and restrictions." Brenda Swann, a state archaeologist, said it is not unusual for such projects to move slowly and the state's 18-member Miami Circle task force is determined to address the project's long-term interests. Swann said the site is being considered for incorporation into Biscayne National Park, so federal officials and regulations are also involved, further complicating the situation.
     In May 2002, Spring introduced a plan that would shelter the Circle under a 60-foot-tall thatched structure and erect explanatory signs. It would cost $400,000, he said at the time, and could be completed within four months. "Our objectives always have been to protect the Circle, remain respectful of the site and make it available to the public for limited tours," said Spring. But the proposed project, to be paid for with state money, was rejected by state officials, after their architects questioned the cost. As a temporary measure, he said, a state architect suggested that the Circle be protected by a retractable pool cover, a plan that many considered disrespectful to the site. "We had the juice, the energy, to preserve it, which we're all thankful for," Carr said, "but it turns out to be much harder to manage it and open it to the public."

Source: The Miami Herald (16 October 2003)

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