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Scientists puzzle over ancient ruins in Miami

dig site
The archeological dig site  

January 7, 1999
Web posted at: 12:28 p.m. EST (1728 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) -- For the last six months in south Florida, an archeological dig has drawn the attention of scientists, history buffs and curious onlookers. Some call the find, in the shadow of modern Miami, the first of its kind in eastern North America, a unique prehistoric monument that could date back thousands of years.

Researchers, digging and sifting buckets of rocks and black dirt, have uncovered an unusual, intricately carved circle in the limestone bedrock.

"I was really struck by the symmetry of the circle. It's absolutely, at least to the eye, absolutely perfectly circular," says John Ricisak, field director for the excavation.

CNN's Susan Candiotti tours the site and talks with archaeologists
Windows Media 28K 56K

Scientists believe the Native American site, which some believe was used for ceremonies, dates back 500 to 2,000 years.

"Whoever was using this location was somebody who had clout. This probably was a council's house or a chief's house, somebody who was probably in control of this particular village," speculates Bobb Carr of the Miami-Dade Historical Division.

Archeologist theorize Florida's Tequesta Indians created the site, unearthed accidentally by a developer who tore down a 50-year-old apartment complex. The dig location, coincidentally, is next to a barrel-chested statue of a Tequesta Indian who guards the mouth of the Miami River.

"The mouth of the Miami River would have been a preferred place to be if you were a prehistoric hunter and gatherer," Ricisak says.

aerial view of site
An aerial view of the site reveals a circular shape  

Unearthed so far have been stone tools, beads, shells and evidence of animal sacrifice. One of the carved holes in the circle faces directly east, toward Biscayne Bay, and is in the shape of an eye with a stone pupil.

Speculation on the purpose of the circle has focused on the possibility it was a celestial calendar on the order of Stonehenge or perhaps evidence of a breakaway band of sophisticated Mayan Indians from Central America.

The latter theory is based on the discovery of small axes made of basaltic stone -- a material not native to Florida but found in the Caribbean basin.

Pottery shards date the site at least 2,000 years, but the prehistoric circle probably goes back to around 1100. Just before Christmas another clue surfaced: the complete remnants of a 5-foot shark.

"It suggests it was buried for a purpose. It was buried as an offering," Ricisak says.

Around the circle are holes of various shapes and sizes cut into solid bedrock.

The directions of north, south, east and west appear to be marked on three of the four points by a cavity resembling an eye. Inside each, a stone suggests an iris.

eye stone
An eye-shaped stone carved from solid bedrock  

"If that's exactly what the creators intended, who can say, but it certainly doesn't take a lot of imagination to see that it's eye-shaped," says Ricisak.

After surviving hundreds or thousands of years, the site now faces a major threat. The developer intends to break ground for high-rise condominiums,

Because archeologists don't have the $25 million to buy out the developer, nor does the developer appear interested in preserving the site, archeologists had to come up with another alternative.

Scientists plan to move the dig, slice it up and take it to another location. There they can try to solve the mystery of the ancient circle in a modern city.

Correspondent Susan Candiotti contributed to this report.

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