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1 July 2007
Florida scrambles to shore up the Miami Circle

Sections of the site containing the ancient Miami Circle (Florida, USA) are at risk of washing into the Miami River following the collapse of a long-deteriorating seawall. The mysterious 38-foot circle, carved into the limestone bedrock 2,000 years ago by now-extinct Tequesta Indians, isn't in jeopardy. But unexcavated historical treasures such as bones, pottery, beads or tools surrounding it could be - especially if a severe storm or hurricane hits.
     "The circle itself isn't going anywhere as the result of erosion," said archaeologist Bob Carr, who unearthed the carving in 1998 on the site of a planned luxury high-rise. "The problem is that there are still valuable artifacts on that site that you could lose." State engineers scrambled to shore up a crumbling 100-foot section of seawall that tumbled into the dark water just east of the Brickell Avenue bridge, taking a 10-foot-wide chunk of riverbank with it. "Anytime a seawall collapses and you're exposed, it's a bad situation," said Stephen Threet, an emergency response manager for the Florida Deparment of Environmental Protection, who surveyed damage. The planned, short-term patch is to line the riverbank with large boulders. The bigger concern is that the roughly 300 remaining feet of weakened seawall could peel away at any time.
     Ryan Wheeler, chief of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, defended the state's role, saying the original $600,000 repair plan was derailed two years ago by another important project - the dredging of the polluted and silted Miami River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit to begin repairs. But not long afterward, Wheeler said, the federal agency expressed concerns about the work possibly interfering with long-term plans to deepen the channel. So the state scrapped the repair plans and 'went back to the drawing board' he said, hiring a engineering consultant to design a new seawall.
     It remains uncertain, however, when the site eventually will be open to the public, with plans discussed by assorted agencies, developers and cultural groups unresolved and short of money. So far, archaeologists believe the heart of the site - an ancient "midden" or spoil mound - remains untouched. Jeff Ransom, Miami-Dade's archaeologist, and Carr, who was the county's lead archaeologist for more than 20 years, both examined the damage after the seawall collapse, which occurred either June 8 or 9. They said the 10 feet of riverbank that washed away probably didn't contain anything ancient or valuable.

Source: Miami Herald (21 June 2007)

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