July 1998, downtown Miami, Florida. Six apartment blocks have just been demolished, to allow the construction of two brand new 40-storey skyscrapers. As construction workers prepare the site, they notice a strange phenomenon in the ground – a perfectly preserved circle of large holes, almost 13 metres across.
What they had stumbled upon would generate huge excitement and controversy: either they had unearthed a rare and mysterious 2,000 year old Indian site – or a 1950s septic tank or an ancient inverted American Stonehenge or a unique Mayan village in North America. For a while theories ranged far and wide.
But finally, after examining the strategically-placed holes, and the range of artefacts found around the circle – stone tools, shark bones, axe heads – archaeologists began to believe that this was a genuinely unique site – the remains of a mysterious forgotten tribe called the Tequesta.
Discovered at the mouth of the Miami River in what could be signs of an ancient culture, Archeologists say the perfect circle is centuries old. The formation still seems sacred because of its apparent function as a temple or astronomical device. The structure has 41 potholes on each side of the circle along the east-west axis. It measures the precise outlines of the autumnal equinox (the time when the sun crosses the equator, making night and day equal in duration) and the summer and winter solstices (the northern and southern extremes of the sun’s seasonal travel through the sky).
Project surveyor T.L. Griggs believes the Maya created this unique circle some 2,000 years ago. Even stranger is the fact that two stone axes, made from basalt, a volcanic material not found in Florida, were found at the site. Volunteers from the Historical Society have said human teeth have been found and the remains of a five-foot shark deliberately buried in the circle.
Beyond mainstream concern about the circle, people who adhere to philosophies that challenge standard theories of human history are now converging on Miami, drawn by the circle. Carr, the county archaeologist in charge of studies at the site, says the circle is probably 500 to 800 years old but not as old as the pyramids of Egypt or Mexico. Carr said he believes the circle is of Tequesta Indian origin. The site itself is possibly a former Tequesta settlement, and that it may have been inhabited continuously for 2,000 years. John Ricisak, the dig’s field director, said local archaeologists believe the circle to be 500 to 800 years old because of a specific type of pottery found nearby. But Ricisak acknowledged that the circle itself has yet to be dated scientifically.
A parade of movement leaders traveled to Miami to view the circle, among them is author Graham Hancock, who for more than 10 years has carved a career out of writing books linking ancient ruins like the Egyptian pyramids to an extinct civilization obsessed with time. Hancock’s book, Heaven’s Mirror, says the ancient monuments were possibly built to track a phenomenon called precession. In its orbit around the sun, the earth’s axis wobbles making the sunrise on the eastern horizon change position throughout the year and over centuries. For example, right now—as viewed from earth—the sun rises at the start of every spring near the constellation of Pisces. But about every 72 years, the sunrise precesses backward one degree away from Pisces. Hancock said he wants to see if the Miami circle has precessional alignments.
Mainstream experts familiar with the Miami Circle say it may be an astronomical observatory. But they also note it could have been the foundation of a sacred temple with no connection to the stars.
Ancient Axes at Circle Originated from Georgia
Scientific detective work have solved the mystery of two primitive stone axes unearthed at the Miami Circle: The palm-sized tools were produced hundreds of years ago by people who lived in central Georgia. That conclusion supports an intriguing theory that the Circle’s site, now part of downtown Miami, was prime commercial property for thousands of years.
Detective work has solved the mystery of two primitive stone axes unearthed at the Miami Circle: The palm-sized tools were produced hundreds of years ago by people who lived 530 miles away in central Georgia. The discovery by University of Miami geologists provides compelling new evidence that ancient South Floridians — including those who carved the stone circle or later occupied the site — maintained robust trade and cultural links with distant tribes.
Long before Europeans arrived, the area most likely served as a port of trade and a manufacturing for arts and crafts. “We were not the first to use it as a port,” said Debra Walker, an adjunct professor at Florida International University and an expert on ancient American cultures. “These people had the Miami River figured out long before we got here.”
The cascading conclusions and insights are emerging from a coalition of local scientists from several disciplines — archaeology, geology, cultural anthropology, sociology — all fascinated by the 38-foot-diameter stone circle and its site. Now recognized around the world, the Miami Circle was discovered as archaeologists examined a 2.2-acre construction site on the south bank of the Miami River, just east of Brickell Avenue.
Amid growing pressure from preservationists and school children, the county seized the land and blocked development of a residential and commercial project. Most experts believed it to be hundreds or even thousands of years old. Others, like Walker, are still skeptical, saying it could be a relic of more modern construction. But a unified theory about the land upon which the Circle sits is beginning to emerge from scientists. Continuously populated the site apparently served at various times as a ceremonial, social, manufacturing and shipping.
The latest breakthrough was made by a team of University of Miami geologists led by Jacqueline Dixon, an associate professor. Their task: Determine the origin of two stone axes found in or near the Circle. Archaeologists gave the team three ax fragments to analyze. Identical to the intact hand axes, the fragments were removed from the area before the disposition of artifacts became one of several legal issues between developer Michael Baumann and local archaeologists.
It was quickly clear to experts that the axes were not produced locally. The reason: The tools were made from basalt, a hard, volcanic rock not found in Florida.
They also determined that the axes contained tell-tale low levels of titanium, sodium and potassium. Then, they laboriously compiled a chemical data base of 776 basaltic rocks found throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, and compared the chemical composition of the fragments to that data base.
Slowly plotting the results, the researchers were able to pinpoint the origin of the axes to within a few hundred miles. Dixon: “And the winner is the Piedmont area of Georgia, between Atlanta and Macon, probably very close to Macon.” Cultural anthropologists know that the area around Macon and the Ocmulgee River was populated 1,000 years ago by a group called the Mississippians because their culture originated in the Mississippi River valley.
Those tribes were known to produce distinctively sturdy tools from the local basalt. The axes found at the Circle cannot be scientifically dated without destroying them, but scientists said that identical axes unearthed in North Florida were produced between 600 and 800 years ago.
Though it is possible that local tribes traded baskets, beads and other products directly with the Mississippians, they more likely did business with groups closer to home that served as intermediaries. That degree of trade plus the geographic location of the Circle’s site — at the mouth of the Miami River, on the edge of Biscayne Bay, across the river from an ancient thriving village — implies that the land was used as a port, scientists said.
John Ricisak, field director of the Circle project, said archaeologists also found flakes of flint and other material near the Circle — but no finished products. That indicates that the area once served as a manufacturing and shipping.
“The Circle is just one feature that makes the site important, and it may not be the most important, ” Ricisak said. “Only further excavation and research will determine that. There’s a lot left to explore on that site.
Former Governor Jeb Bush unanimously approved a motion to take necessary steps to preserve the Miami Circle at its current site. The State of Florida agreed to partner financially with Miami-Date County, the Native American communities, and other private donors to purchase and preserve this unique archeological discovery.
The Tequesta lived on both sides of the river for as long as 2,500 years. By 1763, they were gone, rendered extinct by European explorers and the diseases they carried. ‘Now, we have another physical, material record of people who were here before us – that continuity, that sense of place that is really important,” Carr said as his team dug out and marked new discoveries Tuesday, including the jaw bone of a dog found buried just outside the concentric circles.
He noted that the new circles are close to the original shoreline – ”prime real estate,” he called it – and apparently helped form one of many ancient house foundations that could be unearthed as the exploration continues. ”It looks like the Tequesta had a unit size for their buildings, a template that they used,” Carr said, “just like some of our builders today use a blueprint for ranch homes.”
“Scientifically, this really cements the validity of the Miami Circle.”
THE MIAMI CIRCLE PARK
401 Brickell Avenue, Miami, Florida 33131
Tel. (305) 375-1600