As Native American sites are unearthed, questions about preservation versus revitalization
By Christine Armario
At first glance, the site seems like an eyesore, but it's here where archaeologists say they have uncovered a major prehistoric Native American village, one of the largest and earliest examples of urban planning ever uncovered in North America.
It's also where a movie theater, condos and 34-story hotel are expected to be built.
The discovery has pitted developers against archaeologists and historic preservationists. The dispute comes as an increasing number of Native American sites are being uncovered around the country with advances in technology and a greater understanding of the subtle markers left behind to look for. The discoveries pose difficult questions for cities such as Miami that must decide whether it is best to preserve the remains of an ancient society or, often times, destroy it in hopes of revitalizing a new one.
"Let's be honest with each other," said Eugene Stearns, the attorney representing MDM Development Group, which owns the property and is eager to move forward with construction. "Every great city is built on the shards of a former great city."
At its height, archaeologist Bob Carr estimated as many as 2,000 people lived in the Tequesta village, starting around 500 B.C. It likely extended a quarter mile along the Miami River and then wrapped around Biscayne Bay.
Much of the village consisted of thatched, hut-like buildings the Tequestas, one of South Florida's earliest tribes, built by digging holes with clam shells into the soft limestone, and then inserting pine logs to hold floors, walls and roofs.
Because of the materials used—straw, wood—the only remnants of the buildings are the postholes, today still forming 18 to 40-foot circles in the blackened bedrock.
MDM has proposed carving out a section of the limestone containing the circle formations and placing it on display in a public plaza.
Preservations, however, say removing a piece of architecture isn't like moving a painting from one museum to another.
"The idea that you would carve out a chunk and move it to some other place and put it into exhibition sounds strange to me and sad," said Mark Jarzombek, associate dean of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology's School of Architecture and Planning. "These places are very site specific. There's a reason why they made this village or town there which has to do with orientation, landscape, access to rivers."
MDM has spent $3 million conducting an archaeological review and is now anxious to continue construction. Stearn said all of the planned commercial space has been leased and half of the residential units have been sold.
"There are enormous financial obligations and commitments that have to be met," he said. "And they need to go forward."
Developer: Tequesta site in downtown Miami is “hokum”
By Andres Viglucci
In an interview Thursday, an attorney for MDM Development Group, which plans to build a hotel and commercial project on the site, dismissed archeologists’ conclusions that hundreds of postholes carved into the bedrock at the site mark the foundations of circular dwellings and other structures that once made up a portion of a 2,000-year-old settlement at the mouth of the Miami River.
“It’s just garbage,” said Eugene Stearns, a top Miami civil lawyer. “Hokum. Made up out of whole cloth.”
Stearns’ comments, which startled preservationists and archaeologists who have studied the site, came on the eve of a Friday meeting of the city’s historic preservation board that could help decide its fate.
The lead consulting archaeologist on the site, Bob Carr, who is being paid by MDM, said Thursday he stood by his conclusions that the site is historically significant and worth preserving.
“It’s hard to respond to something so ridiculous,” Carr said, referring to Stearns’ comments.
He might as well say all Native history and culture is "hokum." That's what many Americans think and say. "Before we came, the savages were merely occupying America like animals. We took the wilderness and made it into something useful."
That Euro-Christian idea of supremacy is behind most of American history. Our country was built on the racist notion that white Western civilization knows best.