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13 January 2008
Ancient Miami circle will remain buried

Nine years ago, an array of people rose up to save the Miami Circle, a 2,000-year-old artifact that many embraced as America's own Stonehenge. But today, the Circle a series of loaf-shaped holes chiseled into the limestone bedrock at the mouth of the Miami River (Florida, USA) is interred beneath bags of sand and gravel, laid over the formation in 2003 to protect it from the elements, and now will remain buried. And though taxpayers shelled out $27.6 million to purchase the 38-foot Circle and its surrounding two acres, visitors to the site's planned archaeological park likely will never see the actual work of some of Miami's earliest inhabitants.
     The reburial was supposed to be temporary, while officials settled on a plan to manage and display the Circle, which has inspired as many theories about its origin and function as it has claims about its spiritual energy and mystical powers. Ryan Wheeler, Florida's state archaeologist, and other experts who have studied the Circle think the holes were dug by the Tequesta Indians to support wooden posts for a tribal center, or other important structure. Authenticated as prehistoric, it is on the National Register of Historic Places for the clues it could yield about the complex society developed by the Tequestas, a small tribe who were foraging in the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. Yet visitors to the park, which won't open for at least a year, will see only an 8-foot replica.
     Through the years, officials considered putting a thatched-roof hut or a clear-plastic shell over the Circle. But as Wheeler watched its holes fill with water from the rising water table, he said he knew, that, for now, the cost of any display solution was out of reach. Still, he and other archaeologists insist that, even out of sight, the Circle will retain much of the allure that captivated the world and forced Miami to do something the city has rarely done: save its past from the bulldozers. "It's like going to a place and seeing a sign, 'George Washington slept here,' " said John Ricisak, Miami-Dade County's archaeologist at the time of the discovery. "You don't need to see George Washington lying in the bed to recognize that something important happened at that spot."
     The Circle certainly isn't much to look at. It consists of 24 loaf-shaped basins, each about the size of a sink, and dozens of 4-inch round holes cut into the basins and throughout the Circle interior. Still embedded on one edge is a septic tank from a 1950s apartment complex that stood on the property for five decades. It was the demolition of those apartments that brought John Ricisak, Miami-Dade County's archaeologist at the time of the discovery, and his boss, Bob Carr, to the site on the day the Circle was unearthed in October of 1998.

Source: Sun-Sentinel.com (10 January 2007)

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