Magic Primeval

Don't tell archaeologist Bob Carr that the mysterious Miami Circle is just a bunch of holes in the ground. He knows better than that.

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If you spend much time talking with Bob Carr about the Miami Circle, you're almost certain to hear the story about his encounter with the Oklahoma Seminole medicine man. It took place in early February 1999, when the archaeologist was still Miami-Dade County's historic preservation director, and the public frenzy over the mysterious discovery was approaching its climax. For more than a month, Carr had been giving tours of the circle to journalists, politicians, and visiting dignitaries. The medicine man, one of three representatives sent by the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma to investigate the circle, fit into the last category. Quite a bit older than his companions -- a lawyer and a historic preservation specialist -- he also seemed somewhat uncomfortable in the white world. On the ride to the circle site on a nub of land called Brickell Point, at the mouth of the Miami River, he said almost nothing, staring silently out the car window while Carr and the others discussed the artifact's prospects.

But a few moments after he followed Carr into the circle itself, stepping over the holes in the limestone bedrock that form its boundary, a change seemed to come over the old man. He began speaking in a language that Carr couldn't understand. He didn't seem to be talking to Carr or to the other Seminoles, who, Carr suddenly realized, had not come into the circle with the two of them. Instead his attention was focused downward, at the holes and the rock itself.


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Taking the hint, Carr left the circle and joined the others outside. They stood there quietly for twenty minutes while the medicine man continued his monologue, sometimes sounding as if he were chanting and sometimes as if he were talking to himself. When he was finished, he fell silent again, and the two younger men resumed their conversation with Carr as if nothing had happened. Later, though, at lunch, the archaeologist was unable to restrain his curiosity. Look, he said to the medicine man, I know I'm a white man, and I know you're not able to tell me what it is you know or see. But what is it that you can tell me?

The medicine man answered slowly and carefully, in heavily accented English. He told Carr that the circle was very powerful and very dangerous, and that he was concerned about the harm it might cause the unprotected. He was particularly worried about a small child he had seen run up to the circle and grab a rock for a souvenir. This could harm that boy, he said. It could kill him. You need medicine to protect yourself to go in there.

"He kept talking about how powerful it was," Carr recalls. "Then he said, ďBut the good news is you're not dead.'"

Carr laughs, remembering the oddness of the moment. The Miami Circle's unexpected discovery had given him many things to worry about, but a King Tut-style death curse was not one of them. And yet the archaeologist admits that the medicine man may have been on to something. For when they uncovered the circle, Carr and his colleagues actually did unleash something powerful -- something unlike anything Carr had ever seen in nearly 40 years of delving into South Florida's past.

And the story of what happened when that something got loose in Miami makes the plot of an Indiana Jones movie sound almost plausible by comparison. It's the story of an amazing archaeological find made in a place barely aware that it even has a history, much less a prehistory. It's the story of that place -- Miami-Dade County -- coming to terms with its buried past and coming together to save its newfound legacy in the face of almost impossible odds, a story that jumps from cliffhanger to cliffhanger to arrive finally at what seems like a ridiculously unlikely ending. And it's the story of how a short soft-spoken archaeologist and county bureaucrat on the verge of early retirement found himself on the ride of his life, caught for a year and a half between scientific heaven and political purgatory, with a hell of a lot of serious weirdness thrown in for good measure.

The first time Bob Carr stepped into the Miami Circle, he didn't have the slightest suspicion that it was there. No one else did either, of course, and with good reason. In May 1998 the artifact that eight months later would cause so much uproar was buried four feet beneath the dying grass of the Brickell Apartments, six three-story buildings being gutted by demolition crews. Erected at the mouth of the Miami River in 1950, the apartments once had been billed as "your own club-type home in the country within a short walk of downtown Miami." On the afternoon of Carr's visit, though, they looked more like something out of downtown Beirut: doorless and windowless, surrounded by debris. Not far away, by the Brickell Avenue Bridge, a sign on a high pole already was advertising the new construction that would rise from the rubble: two giant apartment towers to be known as Brickell Pointe.

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