Indian burial ground excavated in Miami

Published: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 11:50 p.m.
Archaeologists excavating two American Indian burial sites in downtown Miami say they have found hundreds of remains piled in limestone fissures, some of the bones stacked in limestone boxes.
"In terms of the rest of Florida we've never seen anything that's been the same. It's a very unusual mode of burial," state Archaeologist Ryan Wheeler said.
The bone piles were discovered in at least five fissures according to archaeologist Robert Carr, director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy. Carr said there have been two other ossuaries discovered in the area but that those contained no more than a dozen individuals and no limestone boxes.
"The idea of a crypt-like structure - that's never been observed anywhere in South Florida before," Carr said.
The remains are at least five centuries old and are likely the ancestors of the Tequesta tribe that met explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 when he claimed the land for Spain, according to archaeologists. The tribe probably kept the bones above ground for some time before mass-burying them - scooping out soil in the fissures or deep natural grooves, burying the bones and then covering the grave, Wheeler said.
Archaeologists have been working on the site, on the north side of the Miami River, since 2003 but first excavated the remains of Henry Flagler's 19th-century Royal Palm Hotel, which were on top of the cemetery.
A condominium development is planned for the site.
The other burial site archaeologists are excavating, on the site of The Related Group's IconBrickell development, on the south side of the river, is much smaller and older. It dates back about 2,000 years, and burials on the site seem to be more individual, Wheeler said. The site is from the same period as the Miami Circle, excavated in 1998, which has since been preserved.
Carr speculated that the area may have been where the Tequesta prepared bodies before burial. The site is near the original shoreline of Biscayne Bay and the Tequesta were known to lay bodies out on the beach to be "de-fleshed by the crabs and the vultures," Carr said.
Carr said the site is part of a larger village.
Archaeologists have long known that a wealth of archaeological material is buried under downtown Miami.
In the 1980s, archaeologists excavated an extensive village on the north shore of the Miami River. And in the 1990s archaeologists uncovered a 38-foot circle that Tequestas are believed to have carved into the limestone.
The larger site under investigation is near a burial mound that was destroyed over 100 years ago. Around Florida, approximately 40-50 unmarked human burials are found a year.
Archaeologists discovered the two sites currently under investigation several years ago, when plans for the two developments were underway. Archaeologists will study and catalog the bones and then re-inter them on the same site. They have been working with the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes to see that the burial sites are treated in a respectful manner.

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