United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service
National Register of Historic Places
Prepared by Dr. Ryan Wheeler. Archaeologist Supervisor/Barbara E. Mattick. Depputv SHPO for Survey & Registration
The Miami Circle was discovered during archaeological salvage excavations at the Brickell Point site (8DA12) in 1998. The Circle is comprised of holes and basins carved or cut into the Miami Oolite limestone formation. Black earth midden deposits occur stratigraphically over and in the holes that make up the Circle. Artifacts found during excavations are typical of the Glades Area, but a number of exotic items like basaltic stone celts and galena also have been recovered. Public outcry over the impending destruction of the Circle and development of the property led to additional research at the site, which documented the limestone formation with cut holes on about 70% of the property and intact black earth midden deposits on at least 35% of the property. Research suggests that the Circle represents the “footprint” of a prehistoric structure, and further analysis of the site and associated cultural materials should help broaden our understanding of the Native American peoples that lived at the site. A cooperative effort between the State of Florida, Miami-Dade County, and many other public and private organizations and individuals led to the state’s acquisition of the Brickell Point site and Miami Circle feature in 1999 (Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Division 1999).
The Brickell Point Site occupies a 2.2-acre parcel of land on the south bank of the mouth of the Miami River where it meets Biscayne Bay. The property is situated within downtown Miami, and is abutted by the Sheraton Biscayne Bay Hotel to the south, the Miami River to the north, the Brickell Avenue Bridge to the west, and Biscayne Bay to the east.
The parcel is located on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, a limestone formation that underlies all of coastal Miami. The bedrock underlying the site is Miami Oolite, which is comprised of egg-shaped, calcium carbonate sands and is reported to be 125,000 years old (Hoffineister 1974). Scarry’s (in Griffin et al. 1982) reconstruction of prehistoric vegetation zones in the vicinity indicates that the immediate area of the Brickell Point site was dominated by hardwood hammock forest fringed by mangrove along the bay and riverfront, with vast tracts of pine flatwoods and prairie within a mile of the site. However, mangrove communities along the banks of the Miami River probably were minimal because of the large volume of fresh water that drained eastward from the Everglades.
Nineteenth and early twentieth century accounts of this area describe a jungle of maritime hammock plants with pine and palmetto on higher sandy areas (Parks 1982:8-10). Early photographs show traces of this hammock, along with a grove of exotic coconut palms, and outcrops of the craggy limestone rock (Gaby 1993:cover; Parks 1982:124). The Miami Oolite limestone is an integral part of the Brickell Point site, which later midden material and soils were deposited (Means and Scott 2000). Presumably the rise in sea level circa 5,500 to 6,000 years ago, which contributed to the formation of the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee, also allowed for the development of the Miami River and other drainage channels that dissect the coastal ridge (Brooks 1974:256).
An engineering survey made in 1995 locates 37 trees on the property (13 were over 24 inches in diameter), many of which were ornamentals planted around the Brickell Point Apartments in the 1950s (Biscayne Engineering Co. 1995). Comparison with an aerial photograph of the apartment complex in 1954 shows that most original or Brickell-era plantings had been removed (cf. Granger 1954). Today the area lacks native vegetation, and filling and leveling have removed most traces of original topography as well as ornamental trees.
The Brickell Point property investigated during this study contains the northernmost portion of the site originally recorded by John Goggin (1949a:opposite 119) as Miami Midden #2 (8DA12). Karl Squires (1941:41) briefly mentions this site, describing a very large village on the north bank of the Miami River and another on the south bank at Brickell Point. Laxson (1959:57-58) excavated midden deposits to the south of the Brickell Point property, prior to the construction of the Elks Lodge in the late 1950s, and presents information that the site once extended to the west of the Brickell Bridge, perhaps as far as Miami Avenue (Laxson 1968:56- 58). Several other lots to the south contain portions of the site, including those occupied by the Sheraton Hotel, Brickell Park, and the First Presbyterian Church. Carr (1981b:65; Carr and Ricisak 2000:265-266) notes that salvage excavations preceding the construction of the Holiday Inn (now the Sheraton) encountered “several alignments of post holes drilled in the oolitic limestone,” which he interpreted as aboriginal. Also see Carr (1981a) and Eck (2000) for more on previous research in the Brickell Point area.
An auger survey of the Brickell Point property revealed that approximately 70% of the property contains the oolite limestone formation, which harbors cut holes similar to those that comprise the Miami Circle feature. The remaining 30% of the property contains fill and a now-buried portion of the Miami River. The auger survey further demonstrated that black earth midden deposits, some exceeding 50 cm in thickness, occur on approximately 35% of the property. The midden deposits overlie the Miami Oolite formation, though in some places a very thin lens of white or tan sand was observed at the interface; this observation is consistent with reports of a similar lens encountered during excavations of the Miami Circle feature. Other deposits routinely encountered across the site include a disturbed midden, which contains nineteenth and twentieth century artifacts, as well as deposits of modem construction fill and early twentieth century dredge fill. The entire 2.2 acre Brickell Point parcel is included in the site boundary, including the Circle feature, surrounding midden, and other archaeological features present on the property.
The intact archaeological deposits found across the site are black earth midden, with occasional lenses of Lucine clam shells. The deposits overlie the oolitic limestone and fill the cut holes, as well as solution features present. In many places this midden has become concreted to the limestone, and the Lucine clam shells are regularly found cemented to the limestone. Radiocarbon dates from the midden associated with the Miami Circle and artifacts recovered during this survey suggest that the midden deposits date between 2000 and 1400 years B.P., representing the Glades I early (500 B.C.-A. D. 500) through Glades Ila (A.D. 750-900) periods. The artifacts recovered are typical of Native American sites in the Everglades region, and it is possible that they have a direct historical connection with the Tequesta Indians who occupied the area during the European contact era (Carr and Beriault 1984; Griffin 1988:113; 1989; Willey 1949:79-120). Information from Brickell Point and the Miami Circle feature complements data from the nearby Granada site, and comparison suggests the inhabitants of both sites were part of the same cultural complex—the Glades Tradition (Goggin 1949b:28-32).
The Miami Circle
The Miami Circle feature is characterized primarily by a patterned group of large and small holes, dug into the oolitic limestone bedrock underlying the Brickell Point Site, that collectively form a circle approximately 11.5 m (38 ft) in diameter. The features comprising the Circle are arranged in a readily discernible pattern, alternating between relatively large oval and quasi-rectangular “basins” and smaller oval and round holes, many of which contain smaller secondary holes within them. Twenty-four (24) of the large oval and quasi-rectangular basin holes occur along the Circle’s circumference and are, for the most part, well defined. Multiple additional, typically circular, holes occur both within and immediately outside the Circle’s circumference; however, their relationships to the main Circle feature are in most cases unclear, although some parallel the arc of the basins forming a discontinuous outer ring.
The archaeological and geological evidence supports the antiquity of the Miami Circle feature. Additional cut holes uncovered during the State of Florida investigation match closely the configuration and contents of those associated with the Miami Circle. The cut holes vary in size and shape, and are filled with dense, intact, black earth midden. Marks left by cutting tools can often be observed on the sides of the holes. Typical shapes range from cylindrical to conical, and sizes vary widely between 10 cm to more than 25 cm in diameter; depths also range considerably. Holes in various stages of manufacture also suggest a human origin. Geologically the indurated crust or precipitate crust observed on the limestone and in the cut holes, coupled with the intact midden deposit, demonstrates considerable antiquity for these features (Means and Scott 2000).
Historic Modifications and Disturbance
Evidence of nineteenth and twentieth century disturbance is abundant at Brickell Point (e.g., Anonymous 1970). The occupation of the property by the Brickell Family included the construction of several buildings, driveways, and sea walls. Evidence of this occupation is found in artifacts and building debris. Construction of the Brickell Point Apartments in 1950 probably led to the most significant alteration of the property. Archaeological evidence shows that the natural topography was altered when portions of the black earth midden and Miami Oolite formation were cut away to provide a level platform for construction of the six apartment buildings and swimming pool. Associated disturbances include excavation for septic tanks and related pipes, excavation for ornamental tree planting, and excavation of footing trenches for the buildings. In some cases these excavations disturbed midden deposits and removed parts of the limestone bedrock that held the carved and cut holes and basins. These disturbances are obvious and can be seen in the photographs and plans of the Circle. This type of disturbance is expected at an urban site like Brickell Point, but led to some controversy concerning the origin of the Miami Circle feature (see Milanich 1999). Extensive historical, geological and archaeological research by Carr and Ricisak (2000), Wheeler (2000a, 2000b), and Means and Scott (2000), however, have effectively demonstrated the antiquity of the site and the Circle feature.
Three main projects have been conducted at the Brickell Point site. The first, an outgrowth of required archaeological monitoring, led to the discovery and excavation of the Miami Circle feature. The second project, conducted by the State of Florida prior to public acquisition of the site, was designed to better understand the rest of the Brickell Point site and help in placing the Miami Circle in its archaeological context. The most recent project was a University of Houston fieldschool conducted by Randolph Widmer. The goals of this project included further study of areas identified during the State of Florida project.
Discovery and Excavation of the Miami Circle
Salvage archaeological investigations of the Brickell Point site began in June of 1998 with the demolition of the Brickell Point Apartments. The archaeological consultant retained by the property’s developer monitored ground disturbing activities associated with the demolition work, including the destruction of a below ground swimming pool and basement area, the removal of several large ornamental trees, and the excavation of some of the building footings. Digging associated with the demolition exposed substantial black earth midden deposits throughout much of the property and resulted in several open trenches, where building footings were removed. This also generated numerous spoil piles consisting of a mix of demolition debris, modern fill, and midden material.
After demolition was completed, further investigation of the site began on July 27, 1998, under the direction of the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Division with assistance from the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, Inc. and numerous local volunteers. The original goals of this investigation were to determine the basic chronology of the site’s pre-modem occupation and to recover a representative sample of the site’s material assemblage. The plan to accomplish this was by excavating several 5 foot square test units in areas of the deepest midden, as revealed by the footer trenches.
Standard English surveying units of measurement (feet and tenths of feet) were used for recording proveniences in anticipation of the imminent construction that was planned for the property, the rationale being that the locations of archaeological excavations could be more easily related to construction plans which utilized these measurement units. An east-west baseline designated “15N” was established 5 feet north of a low concrete block wall that runs along the property’s southern boundary. The east face of the Brickell Avenue Bridge, along the property’s western boundary, was designated as the “lOE” line. This baseline was oriented in relation to true north and was used throughout the project for establishing 5 by 5 foot excavation units as necessary. All elevations were measured in feet and tenths-of-feet and refer to the National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD) of 1929.
Three areas were selected for excavation. Excavation Area #1 was located east of the 295E line, along the east side of Trench #5. This area was selected because of its location in the approximate center of the widest portion of the parcel and because a thick deposit of intact midden could be seen clearly in the trench profile. Area #2 was established north of Trench #8, to the northwest of Area #1. It was chosen because of its proximity to the original bank of the Miami River. A single 5 by 5 foot unit (Unit #17 – 13 ON, 193E) was excavated in a third location in the western portion of the parcel, immediately west of Trench #16. Excavation units were numbered sequentially in the order in which they were initiated. A total of fifty-seven (57) units were assigned numbers and excavated in Area #1, where the Circle feature was exposed. Eight (8) units were excavated in Area #2. Features also were excavated and documented within two 2-meter wide trenches extending for approximately 5 meters from the east and west sides of Area #1.
Excavation in each area began with the wholesale removal of fill and demolition debris to the fill/midden interface using both manual and mechanical means. This material was discarded without screening. Because the site’s midden deposits typically exhibited no readily discernible stratification, excavation in each unit generally proceeded in arbitrary levels of four-tenths of a foot (10.16 cm). In a few instances this was reduced to two-tenths of a foot (5.08 cm). During the latter stages of the project, levels were sometimes combined or disregarded entirely for the sake of expediency. Excavation of the midden deposit proceeded until the surface of the underlying oolitic limestone bedrock was encountered. Although the general characteristics of each level were recorded on individual “level forms,” profile drawings were typically not drawn because discrete stratigraphic variation or features were rarely observable in profile.
All midden material was water-screened through Va inch hardware cloth using freshwater from a nearby municipal supply. Animal bone and shell refuse was typically present in the midden in such high quantity (up to ten gallons in volume per level) that total retention of all screened material from each excavation unit was impractical. Recovery from the general units was confined to all diagnostic material, including all ceramics, all lithic material other than unworked limestone, all items of worked bone and shell, all historic materials (i.e., glass, metal, ceramics, etc.) other than that which was obviously associated with the modem debris/fill layer, all bone material identified or suspected as being human, and any other items that were otherwise judged to be remarkable in some respect (e.g., bone exhibiting butcher marks). Collected material was placed in sealed plastic bags marked with the appropriate provenience information.
Column samples measuring 1 by 1 foot were retained in each of the three excavation areas for the purpose of obtaining unscreened representative midden samples for later analysis. Several core samples of midden deposits also were taken using four-inch diameter aluminum pipe driven into the ground by hand.
All features were designated and labeled sequentially in a feature log. Each hole in the limestone bedrock was described in a feature form and its location plotted on the unit form. The 688 features designated during salvage excavations at Brickell Point consisted almost entirely of midden-filled cavities in the oolitic limestone bedrock underlying the site’s primary midden deposits.
The presence of these hole features was not foreshadowed by readily observable differences in the color or texture of the midden immediately overlying them. Nothing akin to post molds, stains, or other visible evidence of intrusions that might suggest the presence of an underlying feature in the bedrock were observed. This probably speaks less to the complete absence of such features and more to the difficulties of discerning them in the rich black midden soil matrix. Because of this, a hole in the bedrock was typically designated as a feature only after its rim was completely delineated.
The outline of the main Circle feature was predicted based on the arc formed by the larger basin features exposed in the excavation of Unit #s 1, 2, 10, 12 and the western halves of Units 14 and 15. This realization came in late September 1998 when destruction of the site appeared imminent. As noted above, Carr and Ricisak (2000) decided to expose the feature in the most expeditious manner possible, which seemed to be the only option available at the time. The predicted outline of the circle was traced on top of the overlying fill with spray paint and a back hoe was used to remove the fill and midden to within one to four tenths of a foot from the bedrock surface, with the underlying basin features located using a metal probe.
The Miami Circle feature and the areas within and immediately outside of its circumference were completely excavated and exposed in Excavation Area #1. A layer of compacted midden soil approximately 10-60 cm thick covered most of this area except where twentieth century intrusions had occurred. The latter included a crushed rock driveway, belonging to the ca. 1909 Brickell Family mansion built immediately east of the Circle, which crossed from the southwest through the Circle’s center. Although the midden layer was substantially reduced beneath this driveway, almost to the bedrock surface in some places, the underlying bedrock and its midden-filled features remained intact. Foundation footings belonging to Building #5 of the Brickell Point Apartments also impacted the midden layer in the eastern half of the Circle area, as well as several of the posthole features along the Circle’s eastern edge. A septic tank belonging to Building #4 was installed into Ae bedrock along the southern edge of the Circle destroying at least two of the Circle’s basin features and, presumably numerous smaller holes as well.
The 24 basins are more or less evenly spaced, typically between 130-155 cm on center, with six basins in each of the Circle’s four quadrants. The spacing between basins is least regular at the Circle’s easternmost point where three basins are spaced 200 cm on center. The basins vary in size, ranging from approximately 56 cm to 74 cm in length (62 cm average), and 36 cm to 47.5 cm in width (40 cm average) and 30-45 cm in depth (all measured at the bedrock surface). Between one and five circular secondary holes occur at the bottoms of all the basins, as well as within the smaller oval holes between basins. With few exceptions, these are situated alongside the walls of the basin holes. This would appear to indicate that the larger primary holes were created to accommodate multiple smaller posts, rather than a single large post, and that the basins fimctioned more as wall trenches and not individual post holes. This is further supported by the presence in each of the basins of multiple pieces of unworked limestone rock, each about 10 to 25 cm maximum diameter. These stones sometimes appeared to be arranged around the holes in the basin bottoms, which would suggest that they were introduced into the holes to secure posts into place.
In several instances, the smaller oval holes between basins are connected to the basins themselves, forming a tadpole-like shape, while elsewhere they are distinctly separate. The patterning of the large basins and the attendant smaller holes is reversed on the northern and southern halves of the Circle, giving the impression of a mirror image. This arrangement points to the intentional layout and design of the feature.
The basin walls that are closest to the Circle’s interior slant slightly toward the Circle center, while those on the outer walls are typically vertical or even slightly undercut. As with the majority of the hole features uncovered at the site, the walls of the basins commonly exhibit vertical striae, approximately a centimeter in width. These striations are believed to be marks left by the tools used to cut or, more accurately, peck the hole and basin features into the limestone. Limited experiments performed on site using a conch (Pleuroploca sp.) columella hafted to a long wooden pole succeeded in replicating these marks. The columella proved to be an effective and durable tool, quite capable of pecking a hole into the relatively soft oolite.
Although the association between the individual holes making up the Circle is rather obvious, the relationships between the Circle and the hundreds of other holes both immediately within and outside of it are not. There are no fewer than two hundred (200) holes within the area circumscribed by the Circle. Most of these are individual circular holes between 10-15 cm in width and range from mere dimples in the rock to more than 30 cm in depth and appear, with notable exceptions, to be randomly distributed. The conspicuously large circular hole in the western half of the Circle’s interior is bell-shaped in profile and measures 45 cm across at the top, 19 cm at the bottom and 49 cm deep. A small minority of the cavities is believed to be of natural origin (i.e., solution holes) and these tend to be more irregularly shaped. Even some of the latter show evidence of what may be culturally related alterations. All of the cavity features contained black dirt midden material that was generally indistinguishable in appearance (but not necessarily in content) from overlying midden deposits. At least six of the Circle’s main basin features produced St. Johns Check Stamped sherds. While all of the basins contained at least some examples of sand-tempered plain pottery, St. Johns Check Stamped was the only decorated pottery type found in any of the holes along the Circle’s circumference with the exception of a single small sherd with an unidentified linear incising.
Two features of particular note located within the circle were the articulated skeletal remains of a shark (species not yet identified) measuring at least 167 cm (5.5 ft) in length and the carapace of an adult sea turtle. The shark feature (FS 519) was uncovered approximately 9 cm below the top of the midden layer and 30-45 cm above the bedrock surface, oriented with its head to the west and its tail due east. A building footing belonging to Building #5 of the Brickell Point Apartments cut through this feature but it was otherwise largely intact. There can be little doubt that the shark was deliberately interred based on its articulated state and condition, however, its association with the Circle may be coincidental. A sample of the shark’s bone collagen was radiocarbon dated to AD 1560-1680 (see Table 1). This relatively recent date and the shark’s provenience in the upper levels of the midden deposit, suggests it is a later feature unrelated to the site’s earlier occupations and probably to the Circle feature itself. The second feature, the sea turtle carapace, also was uncovered in what appears to be deliberately interred, possibly ritual, offering. It too was placed in an east-west alignment.
Evidence of a living surface was noted in the midden deposits excavated within Area #1 and consisted of a discrete layer of cultural material, characterized primarily by a concentration of fragmentary bone refuse and plain ceramics sherds that were generally oriented horizontally in the midden matrix. This layer occurred at a fairly consistent level between approximately 6.2 feet and 5.8 feet NGVD, irrespective of the elevation of the underlying bedrock, both within and outside of the area circumscribed by the Circle feature. Field observations seemed to suggest that this layer represents a later occupation, postdating the Circle. It is hoped that further analysis of the material from Brickell Point may help to clarify its association to the Circle.
State of Florida Investigation
The State of Florida investigations at Brickell Point were designed to investigate other portions of the Brickell Point property, in order to better understand the archaeological context of the Miami Circle feature and assess the potential for other significant deposits and features (Wheeler 2000a, 2000b). This included making stratigraphic profiles of the existing construction/demolition trenches on the property, systematic auger survey and thematic mapping of the Miami Oolite surface and midden deposits, and excavations in potentially significant areas. A grid using letter and numeral designations was established on 12 foot centers. Operations were conducted in October and November, 1999.
The profile and plan of Trench 11 provides a detailed cross-section of over 10 meters of the site. As noted before, the removal of the Brickell Point Apartments footers in 1998 left a considerable deposit of intact midden in the bottom of this trench. Excavation of this material revealed numerous solution features filled with intact midden deposit. At least two of the cut holes also were encountered in the bottom of the trench. Other notable features include the partial, articulated remains of a raccoon (primarily the lower portion of the creature’s body, pelvis fragments, femurs, tibia, and os baculum), as well as those of a sea turtle (portions of the carapace, humerus). These remains confirm that the midden is intact here and indicate that it probably was deposited rather rapidly. The midden observed in the trench walls is relatively uniform, with lenses of Lucine clam shells in several places. The profile of the trench reveals five major strata, which are roughly representative of the entire Brickell Point property.
Zone 1 is the uppermost unit and consists of construction fill—limestone rubble, broken concrete, light colored sands, and modem debris, dating from the mid-twentieth century to the present. This zone is exposed on the surface of this area and is over 1 meter thick. This stratum is associated with the constmction of the Brickell Point Apartments in 1950 and their demolition in 1998.
Zone 2 is a gray to brown layer of disturbed, redeposited midden soil that eontains nineteenth and early twentieth century artifacts. This stratum varies in thickness across the site, from a thin lens to a thicker unit of 25 to 35 cm; both variants are present in the trench. As noted elsewhere, this stratum probably represents a leveling episode associated with the demolition of the earlier Brickell houses in 1950.
Zone 3 is the black earth midden; this stratum is rich in faunal bone, and has some pottery, shell and bone artifacts, and occasional lenses ofLucina pectinata clam shells. Water-washing of intact deposits of this midden also produced many small to medium sized cobbles of oolitic limestone, which may be debitage from the production of the cut holes found throughout the site. This layer is rather thick (50 cm) in the southern portion of the trench, thinning rapidly at the historic shoreline to the north. Artifacts include sand-tempered plain sherds, bone artifact fragments, and shell tool fragments. Features encountered in the midden include partially articulated animal remains, suggesting that the midden was deposited rapidly here along the water’s edge.
Zone 4 is composed of dredge fill—oolitic limestone, white sand, and gray clay soil. This material was added to the site late in the 1910s or early 1920s when the concrete bulkhead was built. This stratum is not present in all parts of the site and is found only along the historic shoreline, where fill was deposited.
Zone 5 is the local formation of Miami Oolite limestone, which underlies the midden and other strata described above. The precipitate crust or duricrust noted for the Miami Oolite is obvious across the surface of this formation.
The plan view of the footer trench reveals the complex arrangement of solution features that were encountered upon the excavation of the intact black earth midden. The elevation declines gradually, but there are at least two or three major ledges that drop off dramatically. Cemented bone and specimens of Lucina pectinata were often observed on the surface of the limestone, along with the precipitate crust that is usually present on the oolitic limestone. Cut holes, like those encountered elsewhere on the property, were infrequent in the bottom of the trench, but several were noted.
Additional portions of the site were selected for excavation, including the N34 Area dubbed the “Valley of the Holes.” This is area was initially identified during the auger survey when four of the auger tests encountered cut holes in the limestone. The area is situated between grid points M34 and 034, just to the west of the depression left by the demolition of the Brickell Point Apartments’ swimming pool. The machine-made cut in the limestone associated with the pool is evident just to the east of this area. This area is about 90 feet northeast of the Miami Circle feature, near the original shoreline of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay. The fill in this area is thin, ranging from 6-10 cm to 30-45 cm in thickness. Midden deposits overlying the limestone bedrock are absent in most places, though thin lenses are evident in several places. The cut holes and solution features encountered in this area are filled with intact black earth midden.
An area 5 meters north-south by 5 meters east-west was excavated (about 25 square meters). Seventythree (73) distinct features have been identified here, including ten (10) large basin-like troughs or depressions, eight (8) “double” or connected holes, one (1) set or pair of holes placed close together, fifty-one (51) single holes cut in the limestone, and what appear to be three (3) aborted or abandoned holes.
These features are interesting since they give some indication of the process that the Indians used in making the cut holes. Some of the features are circular depressions, chopped into the surface of the limestone, and then apparently abandoned with no further modification. The next stage in making a hole seemingly involved continuing the hole downward into the limestone with almost vertical sides. Holes left in this stage of manufacture often have sides with very distinctive vertical grooves, giving the hole a scalloped or gadrooned effect. Many more of the holes examined in this area were cut even farther into the limestone, and have diagonally sloping sides in their lower half, giving the overall hole a conical form. Vertical grooves in these holes are usually absent or faint, and there is evidence, in the form of lateral striations on the walls of the holes, that suggest these grooves may have been intentionally removed.
Close examination of the cut holes in this area indicates that many (if not all) have a thin (1 to 2 mm) indurated crust on the limestone surface extending down into the hole. This is in contrast to the unaltered limestone surface around the holes, which has an indurated crust ranging from 8 to 10 mm in thickness. In some places near the cut holes, this crust has been broken or spalled off in antiquity, perhaps when the cut holes were originally made. This matches the description given by Means and Scott (2000) during their geological examination of the Miami Circle feature; they note that these crusts may be the result “of subariel exposure where acidic soil waters cause dissolution of CaCO^ and capillary action and evaporation cause reprecipitation in the form of a laminated crust on the bedrock surface.”
Cut hole feature “R” is a good example of the “double” holes encountered in this area. The brown, disturbed layer at the surface of the limestone here contained a sherd of whiteware or white ironstone, probably dating to the late nineteenth century. The midden removed from the double hole cut in the limestone did not contain any historic material, and was tightly packed in the hole. At 12 cm below the surface of the limestone a sherd of Opa Locka Incised pottery was found within the hole. The bottom of the hole was filled with concreted midden. In all, the hole was probably around 25 cm in depth. Like many of the other holes, the sides were straight until around 10 cm below the limestone surface, from where the paired hole tapered gradually to the bottom, with a slight ridge separating the two holes.
Other areas were selected for excavation during the State of Florida investigation, including one area with deeper midden deposits to the west of the Miami Circle feature. Like the other areas studied, the excavations encountered black earth midden with lenses of Lucine clams, dense hone material, artifacts typical of the Glades I periods, and a few examples of the human-made holes cut into the limestone bedrock. Column samples for zooarchaeological and ethnobotanical studies were taken in this area (see Wheeler 2000a:308).
University of Houston Field School
Randolph Widmer conducted two three-week field school sessions at Brickell Point during June and August, 2000. This project focused on the area between the “Valley of the Holes,” described above, and the Miami Circle feature. A large area was excavated in this area in the hopes of finding additional structures like the Circle. Numerous holes and basins carved into the limestone were encountered, along with artifacts and midden, but no definite patterns were recognized. The results of this project are still pending.
Over 1,000 field specimen numbers have been assigned to collections from excavations at Brickell Point, mostly consisting of groups of artifacts or cultural material recovered from a single feature or a particular unit level. Since the cleaning and cataloging of the Brickell Point site cultural material are still underway, no detailed analyses of the material are yet available; however, some cursory discussion of the recovered material is presented here based on field observations and notes.
The material assemblage recovered from Brickell Point is largely typical of black dirt middens of southeastern Florida and includes thousands of bone, shell, ceramic and lithic artifacts, as well as large quantities of faunal bone and shell refuse. This material was generally in a fair to good state of preservation, although marine shell was often usually chalky and degraded, and faunal bone often fragile and fragmentary. Pottery sherds were the most conspicuous artifacts, with sand-tempered plain sherds being by far the most abundant type. Decorated wares were present and those types observed during fieldwork include examples often associated with the Glades Area, such as Key Largo Incised, Opa Locka Incised, Fort Drum Incised and St. Johns Check Stamped. Of particular interest were a number of Deptford linear stamped sherds, most often observed at the lowest levels of the midden and in at least one instance located directly on top of the bedrock.
Glades Illb and Glades IIIc ceramic marker types (specifically Surfside Incised and Glades Tooled) and contact period Spanish wares are largely absent from the Brickell Point artifact inventory, types which were well-represented at the Granada site (8DA11) located just across the Miami River from Brickell Point (Griffin et al. 1982). This suggests a lack of activity at Brickell Point during the time period after ca. A.D. 1200 and is consistent with what Carr observed during his investigations on the adjacent Sheraton Hotel parcel in 1980.
This lack of activity during the later Glades periods appears to be further supported by the fact that no examples of decorated bone were recorded during salvage excavations at Brickell Point. Decoratively carved and incised bone is a class of artifacts that also was well-represented at the Granada site, most often in a Glades III context (Richardson and Pohl in Griffin et al. 1982:136-138).
Lithic artifacts were relatively (and surprisingly) abundant at Brickell Point, and included a large number of chert flakes (it is estimated that at least 100 specimens were recovered) and several whole and partial nodule-like cores, although completed chert tools, such as projectile point/knives, were very rare. Fragments of three lithic bifaces were recovered during the State of Florida investigation, including a Middle Archaic (5,000-6.000 B.P.) Hamilton point. The anachronistic nature of this point suggests it may have been found elsewhere and brought back to the site. Haiduven (1999:23-26,28-29) reports Strombus gigas shell celts recovered from dredge spoil located on property less than a mile from Brickell Point; these were radiocarbon dated between 4.000 and 3,500 years B.P. Presumably the celts are from a site in Biscayne Bay, and it is possible that such sites contained Archaic materials that were collected by the later Glades people. Other bifaces found include a Hernando point, which ranges in date from circa 1000 B.C. through A.D. 900, and the mid-section of another small unidentified point (cf Bullen 1975:24, 38; Ste. Claire 1996:197). Griffin et al. (1982:67) note a rather eclectic collection of chert points and bifaces from the Granada site spanning, at least, the 2000 year range of occupation noted for the site. Further analysis of the chipped stone artifacts from the site is underway.
Two basaltic celts and fragments of several others were recovered from within the area of the Miami Circle feature, including one celt that was found in situ inside one of the holes in the bedrock (Carr and Ricisak 2000:272, 276). A third basaltic celt was reportedly collected and stolen by one of the volunteers who appeared on the site as part of a weekend workday, and a fourth celt was found in spoil in 2001. Spectrographic analysis of basaltic celt fragments from the site indicate that the Macon, Georgia, area is a likely source for this material (Dixon et al. 2000:336-337).
At least two specimens of galena have been recovered from the site, including one unaltered piece found associated with the Miami Circle feature and a bead found during the State of Florida investigation. The bead
has flattened ends, slightly bulging sides, an off-center countersunk hole, is 6 mm high, 20 cm wide, and
appears to be made of galena (lead sulphide), a non-local mineral. The surface is a shiny, metallic gray color, and the distinct cubic cleavage of this mineral is notable in this specimen. Galena deposits are found in southeastern Missouri, the Missouri-Kansas-Oklahoma area, and in Illinois and Wisconsin (Palache et al. 1944:200-204; Prinz et al. 1978:entry 25). Walthall (1981:37-41) notes that Middle Woodland (200 B.C.-A.D. 500) occurrences of galena at sites in the Midwest are from southeastern Missouri and the upper Mississippi Valley areas. Austin et al. (2000:127) note that galena is known from 54 archaeological sites in Florida. Archaeological occurrences of galena in southern Florida include Hopewellian contexts at Royce Mound (Austin 1993:300-301), Oak Knoll (Dickel and Carr 1991:66), and Mound A at Fort Center (Steinen in Sears 1982:Figure 6.1m, 96) and a post-A.D. 1200 occurrence of this mineral at the Pineland site (Austin 1993:301). Sourcing studies of galena specimens from McKeithen (8C017), Fort Center (8GL13), Royce Mound (8HG676), and the Pineland Site Complex (8LL33) indicate an origin in southeastern Missouri (Austin et al. 2000:127-128). Galena is thought to be an elite item in both Woodland and Mississippian times in the southeastern United States, and in some cases was ground to produce a white pigment (Seeman 1979:375-376). Sourcing studies of the Brickell Point galena artifacts are underway.
A fragment of hematite (iron oxide) represents another extra-local find from this area. This fragment is heavy, lustrous and silver in color, with some red tints; hematite in this form commonly comes from sedimentary deposits in the Great Lakes region (Palache et al. 1944:527-534; Prinz et al. 1978:entry 65), as well as in eastern Missouri and west-central Illinois (Seeman 1979:294).
During cleaning and cataloging of the extensive artifact collection from the Brickell Point site at least one additional artifact produced from an exotic material was identified. This is a shell plummet made from the lustrous valve of a large freshwater mussel shell. The closest populations of shells of this type are the Chipola-Apalachicola river system, and other related species are known from the Mississippi River. Like the stone axes found during excavation of the Miami Circle, the galena, hematite, and exotic shell objects point to participation in long-distance exchange networks (see Dixon et al. 2000).
Part of the funding from a $484,845 Special Category grant from the Division of Historical Resources to the Historical Museum of Southern Florida is dedicated to analysis of materials collected during the various investigations of Brickell Point. Analyses planned include zooarchaeological and ethnobotanical studies; additional radiocarbon dating; technological and sourcing studies of chipped stone artifacts; analysis of bone and tooth artifacts; classification and study of the ceramic materials, and other studies of minor artifact categories. This work will complement earlier work at the Granada site, and will make the Brickell Point site one of the best studied sites in southern Florida.
The Brickell Point Site is significant at the local and state levels under Criterion D in the area of Archeology: Prehistoric. It is an important component of what was once a large Native American village complex. During the period of European contact, occupation was concentrated on the north bank of the Miami River, and the village was known as Tequesta. The Brickell Point site represents an earlier component of the village, which apparently existed for over 2000 years at the mouth of the Miami River. Despite the modem urban setting, the site contains well preserved midden deposits as well as evidence of prehistoric structures, preserved as holes and basins cut and carved into the Miami Oolite limestone. The Miami Circle feature is one of these structures. The prominent position of this feature at Brickell Point and the high number of exotic artifacts associated with the site suggest that this may have been an important building, like a chief s house. The presence of undisturbed midden and the architectural features like the Circle make this a significant site. Little is known about Native American architecture in southern Florida, and few sites have been investigated with block excavations. Analysis of the Circle feature and the ecological and artifactual material will help improve our understanding of the Glades Area. The preservation of the site allows for future investigation, which may help answer additional questions about the site complex and its inhabitants.
The Brickell Point site is situated within the Everglades archaeological region or Everglades area, as defined by Griffin (1988:137-142; 1989:197-201) and Carr and Beriault (1984:5-6). Earlier assessments of cultural geography by Stirling (1936:355) and Goggin (1947:119-121) characterized much of southern Florida as the “Glades Area.” The diverse interior and coastal portions of the Everglades region were extensively utilized by prehistoric populations—many small campsites are found on Everglades tree islands, and larger sites are found in both coastal and interior areas. Hunter-gatherer subsistence activities focused on freshwater and marine resources, as well as the collection of edible plants; there is no archaeological or historical evidence to suggest that horticulture was practiced. Material culture is characterized by a diverse toolkit of bone and shell implements, many of which are associated with weaving and woodworking activities. The distinctive decorated pottery of the Glades series is temporally sensitive and has been used to develop a 2,000 year chronological sequence (Griffin 1988:120-129,137-142; 1989:197-201). Complexes of middens and mounds, such as the one at the mouth of the Miami River, are characteristic of the settlement pattern for much of the coastal regions of the Glades Area (Carr and Beriault 1984:6; Wheeler 1992:11-15).
Ethnohistoric documents of the sixteenth through early eighteenth centuries reveal that the inhabitants of the Everglades region were known as the Tequesta, and the archaeological evidence indicates that the prehistoric peoples of the area were likely the ancestors of this historic period group. The Tequesta were not a simple band of himter-gatherers. Close study of the ethnohistoric accounts indicate that their society was sociopolitically complex. Archaeology confirms that their economy was based on fishing, hunting, and gathering, with a reliance on dugout canoes, which were used along the coast and in the Everglades. Fish remains from middens show that the Tequesta and their ancestors caught many types of fish, including large fish such as mako shark and swordfish (Wing and Loucks in Griffin et al. 1982). Caches of shell celts suggest an honored role for makers of dugout canoes and other wooden objects (Carr and Regier 1980). The Tequesta were expert wood carvers, as shown by two wooden clubs dredged from buried deposits, including one from the Miami River (Goggin 1942; Purdy 1991:236, Figures 89 and 90). Art styles on carved bone artifacts indicate participation in widespread traditions of Florida Indian art (Wheeler and Coleman 1996), and ceramic platform pipes demonstrate that the ancestors of the Tequesta had links to the far-ranging Hopewellian cultures, best known from the Midwestern United States. Such influences might have led to the construction of large, circular earth works (Carr 1985) and other mound-earthwork complexes (Carr et al. 1995:24-25; Harrington 1909:139-140).
Historic accounts describe the importance of the Tequesta (Hann 1991; McNicoll 1941; Sturtevant 1978). The Tequesta were encountered by Ponce de Leon during his first voyage to Florida in 1513 (Davis 1935; True 1944). In the 1560s, the Spanish established a fort and mission among the Tequesta, and they took the brother of the principal Tequesta chief to Spain, where he became a Christian. He returned to Florida and helped mediate between the Spanish and Indians (Lewis 1978:28; Solis de Meras 1923:232,236,242-243; Zubillaga 1946:322-324, 333-340, 371). During this period, the Tequesta engaged in tributary and political relationships with neighboring tribes. The Tequesta were sometimes allied with their neighbors in the Florida Keys, and they used dugout canoes to himt right whales, drying their meat for barter with inland groups (Goggin and Sturtevant 1964:180,184-185,188; Larson 1980:146-156; Worth 1995). Alliances were often cemented through marriages, and the chief of the Tequesta was a “near relative” of the chief of the Calusa, with whom the Tequesta were sometime allied and sometimes hostile (Goggin and Sturtevant 1964:187-189; Lewis 1978:27- 29; Solis de Meras 1923:210, 222).
The radiocarbon dates place the Miami Circle and associated deposits within the Glades I period, including both the Glades I early (500 B.C.-A.D. 500) and Glades I late (A.D. 500-750) subperiods. These dates are consistent with those obtained for the Sheraton Hotel portion of the Brickell Point site in 1981 (Carr and Ricisak 2000:267). Comparison with the Granada site, where these periods were poorly represented (Griffin in Griffin et al. 1982:51), suggests that the Brickell Point site may have been the major focus of occupation during this time period at the mouth of the Miami River. In general the Glades I period is poorly studied, largely because sites of this era are dominated by sand-tempered plain pottery, making the positive identification of sites from this era difficult.
Within the broader context of the archaeology of the Southeast, the Circle appears to date to the Middle Woodland horizon (ca. A.D. 1-350). Middle Woodland sites and artifacts appear to be rare in southern Florida, but are represented by sites like the Royce Mound (Austin 1993), Oak Knoll Mound (Dickel and Carr 1991), and the Mound-Pond Complex of Fort Center (Sears 1982). Luer (1995) discusses the presence of Middle Woodland platform pipes in southern Florida, indicating that people in this part of Florida were participating in far-reaching exchange networks of the Midwest and Southeast. The association of the Circle with the Middle Woodland horizon is suggested by the radiocarbon dates and is supported by the Deptford stamped sherds, as well as the exotic items like the stone celts found at the site.
The Brickell Point Site is significant in terms of its identity and context as a Native American archaeological site as well as in its value to scientific research and the new knowledge that can be gained from it (Weisman et al. 1999, 2000).
Significance in Aboriginal Contexts
The Miami Circle’s position in the landscape suggests that it had an important role at the Brickell Point site. Situated near the water’s edge, it was easily accessible by canoe via the mouth of the Miami River. Situated on a point, it was widely visible from Biscayne Bay and the Miami River. Its location afforded wide views overlooking both Biscayne Bay to the east and a stretch of the Miami River to the west.
The Miami Circle’s location at the Brickell Point site suggests that it had an important role in local and regional Native American society. The Brickell Point site is a portion of a regionally important Indian village.
During the historic contact period, ca. A.D. 1500-1750, this village was known as Tequesta and was the seat of a Native American polity. Excavation and research at Brickell Point may help in better understanding the other components of this village, including the Granada site (8DA11), which was the focus of study almost twenty years ago.
The Miami Circle represents the most complete remains to be identified archaeologically in southeastern Florida of what appears to be a Native American architectural structure. As such, it is a rare and possibly unique cultural resource.
Significance in Research Potential
Analysis of materials excavated from the Miami Circle (e.g., ceramics, faunal bone, botanical remains, etc.) can help determine more about the Circle’s age and function, and about the people who used it. The relatively high frequency of exotic materials is especially interesting, and will allow insight into the exchange networks in which the ancient inhabitants of the site participated.
Further analysis of the Circle’s pattern of holes and basins could reveal more information about little-known Native American architecture in Florida. It is possible that the Miami Circle represents only the central portion of a larger structure, other remains of which are still unexcavated and covered by earth at the Brickell Point site. At this point, field observations indicate that the Miami Circle can be divided into roughly symmetrical north and south halves, each consisting of pairs of large and small basins that are roughly rectangular in plan-view. Most of the paired basins appear to be accompanied by a round hole lying immediately outside the circle defined by the basins. This indicates that the holes and basins comprising the Circle were planned and very carefully executed, providing additional insight into aspects of Native American aesthetics and architecture.
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