Miami condominium development hits snag after workers discover ancient remains

BY Robert Pursell  February 11, 2014 at 12:01 PM EST

The development of a $1 billion building complex in the heart of downtown Miami hit a snare when workers announced the discovery an ancient civilization on the grounds of the proposed construction site.

South Florida archaeologist Bob Carr has led a series of excavations on the site since 2005. Carr and his team work for site developer, MDM Development Group, which commissioned an archaeological survey in accordance with Florida state law. They found a number of interconnected holes dug into limestone on the construction site. The archaeologists only recently realized the scope of their discoveries.

“We got to the point in recent months where we realized this wasn’t an isolated circle or structure but a whole complex of buildings,” Carr said to CNN. He suggested the village may have been home to as many as 1,000 people, and that the remains likely belonged to a Tequesta Indian tribe, some of the original inhabitants of Miami. Carbon dating suggests that the holes are about 2,000 years old. Carr calls the site, “the best-preserved prehistoric town plan in eastern North America.”

The discovery of the remains is a headache to site developer MDM Development Group, which has faced multiple delays in their attempts to build Metropolitan Miami, a mixed-use development site, including four skyscrapers, a lifestyle center, a movie theater, restaurants and a hotel.

“This is the last element of a very extensive downtown development project, all of which has been hugely successful,” Gene Stearns, a lawyer for the Metropolitan Miami developers, said. “It’s already been delayed for the years it took to do this analysis, and it’s time here to move on.”

Preservationists and city board members have already begun to clamor for the protection of the site. State officials say it would likely earn National Historic Landmark status; others believe it might also qualify as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While MDM developers have offered to potentially excavate and display portions of the remains within the development, many preservationists are insistent the site remain untouched and intact.

Ryan Franklin, the site’s field director from the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, told Miami’s CBS4 station that displaying only part of the findings would lessen their impact.

“If you have a book and you tear out a chapter, you lose the integrity of the book,” Franklin said. “You might have this part of it, but you lose part of the story.”

Carr and his team have been making finds continuously over the past few years, but their work they have only gained notoriety in recent months after Miami-Dade’s county archaeologist, Jeff Ransom, caught wind of their digs. Carr admits he failed to properly notify county and city officials of major finds as needed, a mistake, he said, he has corrected.

Carr also found the remains of multiple Tequesta people in a burial ground under the third phase of the project, a Whole Foods with a parking garage and residential tower, which is currently under construction. Those remains were reburied in an undisclosed location in accordance with Florida law.