Miami Circle soon open for tours; historic status being weighed Friday
By Marilyn Bowden
The Miami Circle, under consideration this week for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, will soon open to the public for tours organized by the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, officials said.
The site's cultural import was strengthened last week with the announcement that an animal skull found within the boundaries of the limestone circle in December 1998 has been identified as the cranium and beak of a bottlenose dolphin.
These remains and others of a sea turtle and a shark, all deliberately buried, lend weight to the theory that the circle was a council house or similar structure where religious rites may have been practiced, said Bob Carr, director of the Archaeological & Historical Conservancy.
"To find a dolphin is not a great surprise," he said. "We have found dolphin bone fragments before. But this is physical evidence of a spiritual-religious relationship, something rarely encountered in archaeological sites."
Ryan Wheeler, an archaeologist with the Florida Division of Historical Sites, said officials from the National Register of Historic Places will consider listing the Miami Circle during a Friday meeting in Tallahassee. The listing would qualify the site for federal historic preservation grants when funds are available.
Although other sites south of the Miami River have yielded pre-historic artifacts most recently Brickell Park, where human remains were unearthed earlier this year Mr. Wheeler said only the Brickell Point site where the Circle was discovered is included in the nomination.
"The aboriginal site was extremely large," he said. "In historical times it has been carved up and there are questions of ownership. So it's easier to list the Brickell Point site as a separate component."
Brickell Point is owned by the State of Florida, which bought it from developer Michael Baumann in 1999 for $26.7 million after the Circle's discovery stopped construction of a $100 million residential and commercial complex.
For now, though, Mr. Miller said, the Miami Circle Planning Group, the state-appointed body that oversees the landmark, isn't looking for funds. On the agenda for its Nov. 30 meeting are accessibility and security.
Eventually, the group plans some sort of interpretive center at the site. In the meantime, Dr. Carr announced, the historical museum will sponsor guided tours beginning in January.
"People will be kept away from the sensitive parts of the site," he said. "Most of it is just fill, so it won't have an impact on the Circle itself. We're hoping a boardwalk will be built shortly."
Dr. Wheeler said he and Michael Spring, director of the county's cultural affairs department, will present designs Nov. 30 for a canopied structure to protect the Circle from the elements.
"Mine is frugal," he said, "kind of a tent-like structure. His are for a more elaborate thatched structure."
The chain-link fence surrounding Brickell Point, which has a hole in it near the entrance, also needs attention, Dr. Wheeler said. Holes have been repaired earlier, he said, only to reappear.
"There doesn't seem to be any vandalism involved," he said. "We think they're made by fishermen who want to fish under the bridge.
"That fence was a temporary part of the construction site. It was never meant to be there for several years. We hope to put up something that will become a permanent part of the site."
Dr. Wheeler said the historical museum has a grant for analysis of about 1,000 of the more than 200,000 artifacts so far uncovered in the area. The reconstruction of the dolphin skull by Alison Egart-Berry was part of that undertaking.
Jorge Zamanillo, a curator from the museum, said the skull and other artifacts will be on view in a temporary exhibit in December. A larger, permanent exhibit is slated to open in September 2003.