America's Stonehenge saved in centre of Miami

AN AMERICAN Indian archaeological site in the heart of Miami, revealing secrets going back at least 2,000 years, has had an eleventh- hour reprieve.

Hours before a developer was due to obliterate the "Miami Circle" yesterday, county commissioners voted to borrow $8.7m (pounds 5.4m) to help to buy him off. Two 40-storey towers were to go up on the plot, at the mouth of the Miami River on the edge of Biscayne Bay. Barring last-minute glitches, however, the way is open for a deal that will see the building of a cultural museum on the site.

To the passer-by, it doesn't look much - a dusty parcel of 2.2 acres surrounded by chain-link fencing in the shadow of the giant Sheraton Hotel. At its centre is a circle of pale limestone, 38ft in diameter, pitted with what look like post-holes. But to historians and archaeologists who have been excavating here furiously for months, this is nothing less than America's Stonehenge.

Discovered last year, when some apartment buildings were demolished, the site stirred excitement among archaeologists worldwide. Even more astonished was Miami itself: heritage in this city meant South Beach's tourist- infested Art Deco district. Now, right in its heart, it has possibly the most important Native American treasure trove on the continent. Most experts believe the circle is the work of the Tequesta Indians, who for centuries roamed the lower half of the Florida peninsula. They think the post-holes supported the roof of a meeting house or even a temple - some of the patterns appear to have mystical alignments to the Sun.

Moreover, carbon dating suggests that the site, if not the circle itself, dates back at least 2,000 years or even beyond. Among artefacts uncovered are the remains of a 5ft shark.

"For many people in South Florida there is a sense of rootlessness and a lack of a sense of history," said John Ricisak, a state archaeologist. "We know now there is history here."

In February, Miami-Dade County filed a lawsuit giving it the right to take possession of the land on condition it paid the construction company, Brickell Point, its market value, put at $26.7m. But a disappointing response to fund-raising meant the county was $8.7m short of the $20m it needed on Monday. The day was saved by the Trust for Public Land, a preservation group based in San Francisco, which offered to lend the pounds 8.7m at 8.5 per cent interest.

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