The Miami Circle

Much press and public attention has attended discovery of an ancient site in Miami, Florida, dubbed with typical media disdain for fact as an American Stonehenge. Christine Rhone summarises the findings

The Miami Circle was discovered in late 1998 through a routine investigation by urban archaeologists of a plot of land on the S shore of the Miami River at its mouth to the Atlantic, preliminary to the building of a $100m condominium complex. The site had been occupied since 1948 by a set of buildings, recently razed. By law, since 1981, local archaeologists have been required to examine such sites and normally they do find items of interest. However, there was little to prepare them for the quality of the find they made there: a perfectly preserved ring of holes and basins, 38 ft in diameter, in the oolite limestone of the terrain. Within the area of the circle were found the remains of a whole shark, head facing W, and those of a sea turtle, head to the E. Also, some axes of a stone not native to the area, volcanic basalt, perhaps from Appalachia to the N or Central America; and, to cap it all off, a stone carved apparently in the shape of an eye.

Serious archaeological work on the circle is by no means complete and will take another couple of years to finish. In March, the results were announced of radiocarbon tests on two pieces of charcoal found within one of the thirty basins on the circumference: these have been dated to 1800-2100 years BP, a good confirmation that there was activity at the circle site at that time. Pottery shards found on the property appear to be about 500-800 years old, suggesting that the site may have been occupied for the entire intervening period, or between ca.100 BCE and ca.1500 CE. More tests are underway of eight other artifacts found in or near the circle. Archaeologists believe the circle is the remains of a Tequesta tribal meeting house or temple.

The questions of possible alignments and calendrical significance remain open. A basin positioned due E on the circle contains a stone carved in the shape of an eye, or roughly a circle inside a vesica piscis. It has been proposed that this is one of four points that would comprise an E-W axis, a reference to the equinoxes. The other points would be two postholes, each one exactly 41 ft from the centre of the circle. This axis, plus another alignment that would mark the solstices, was first suggested by surveyor T. L. Riggs. He also believes that the varying shapes of the basins are meant to represent animals and that the whole ring was a calendar. Robert Carr, the senior county archaeologist in charge of studies at the site, seems favourably inclined at least to the equinoctial axis interpretation. Caution is recommended by Anthony Aveni, professor of astronomy, as there are hundreds of postholes on the 2.2 acre site. Riggs has also found in the immediate vicinity what he says are stones that fit into the postholes. Carr is not convinced that these were related to the circle.

The general site at the mouth of the Miami river has long been known to be archaeologically significant. On the opposite bank once stood a gigantic burial mound, razed late last century to make way for a hotel, a fate similar to that of the many hundreds of huge burial and temple mounds that used to dot Florida’s coast.

Published in NE78 (Summer 1999), p.25