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.

Despite this atmosphere of uncertainty, the archaeological investigation moved steadily forward, producing a series of surprising and provocative discoveries. By early December Ricisak's diggers had cleared a three-foot-wide strip of bare limestone along the circle's perimeter and had begun to clean out individual holes. Both midden and bedrock, they confirmed, were largely undamaged by modern activity; the one significant exception was a large septic tank buried just inside the circle's southern edge, which they jokingly dubbed the "Tomb of the Tequesta King."In addition to the large basins, they found, the bedrock also was pocked with many smaller round holes like those Ricisak had found closer to the river. The little holes were everywhere, even at the bottoms of the basins themselves. Sometimes they contained loose chunks of rock, which the archaeologists theorized might have been wedged into place to hold posts upright. It also was possible that these rocks, or the posts they had held up, marked places of ritual significance to the Tequesta. That hypothesis was supported by the fact that rocks had been placed in holes that matched exactly with the east, west, and south cardinal points of the circle, as if to orient somehow the structure with the earth itself.

Most striking of all was the rock-in-hole feature that marked the circle's east cardinal point, over which a modern observer standing at the circle's center could see the condominium towers of Brickell Key. The hole was shaped like a football, only bigger, and it had a round boulder in its center. It looked for all the world like a human eye, and it seemed to be looking east -- toward the sunrise, perhaps, or maybe at the gap between Fisher Island and Virginia Key. To Carr and others, the position and appearance of the "eye" seemed too perfect to be an accident: The thing, they were sure, had meant something to the people who had made it. Although Carr wasn't ready to speculate on what that meaning might be, another investigator was not so reticent. Surveyor Ted Riggs, his confidence bolstered by his earlier success, had incorporated the eye into his Maya-circle theory -- a theory he had now taken to a new level.


From circle doubter to circle defender: County 
archaeologist John Ricisak
Jim Kelly
From circle doubter to circle defender: County archaeologist John Ricisak
The mysterious human eye: Carr and others believe 
its shape and alignment are so precise it must have 
special significance
Jim Kelly
The mysterious human eye: Carr and others believe its shape and alignment are so precise it must have special significance

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Read Part 2

Riggs had no pretensions to being an archaeologist. He seemed, in fact, to have no pretensions at all. In his early seventies but still formidable-looking and broad-shouldered, the leathery-skinned surveyor with a drooping mustache and dark combed-back hair favored white running shoes and bright-colored shirts that he left unbuttoned to his navel. His interest in Mayan culture dated to just after World War II, when, following service in the U.S. Navy, he had gone to Central America in search of adventure. There he had encountered the mysterious monuments left behind by the ancient Maya, visiting "every one I was allowed to get access to and some I wasn't." Riggs had a natural affinity for geometry and math -- it was no accident that he later became a surveyor -- and in time he became fascinated by the close connection between Mayan astronomy and architecture. So when he first saw the strangely shaped cut-limestone basins and carefully positioned post holes of the Miami Circle, he was reminded of observatories from which Mayan priests plotted the movements of the sun, moon, and stars.

Riggs knew that like England's Stonehenge, some Mayan structures were aligned with sunrise or sunset on the summer and winter solstices, the longest and shortest days of the year, respectively, and he thought it was possible that the circle's north and south cardinal points might have served a similar function. Using his surveyor's transit he plotted a precise north-south line through the circle's center and found that it intersected exactly with round holes on the circle's north and south edges. Then, still working from the circle's center, he marked a line toward where the sun would rise on the autumnal equinox -- the first day of fall -- and projected it backward, so that it passed out the circle's west side. Finally, using known directions for the summer and winter solstice sunrises, he drew lines from the holes he'd located at the circle's north and south cardinal points that intersected with the equinox line. At that point, 41 feet from the circle's center, he dug and found a perfectly round post hole that was four inches across and twelve inches deep. There, he decided, the circle's builders had set up a post on which the shadows of other posts at the north and south cardinal points would fall at the summer and winter solstices. And to the east, from a hole near the eye, another post would cast its shadow on the observation post at sunrise on the equinox.

The importance of this area of the circle, Riggs thought, was underlined by the eye (which seemed to him suspiciously close to the Mayan symbol for zero) and two other mysterious artifacts that had been found nearby. These were wedge-shaped hand axes made from basalt, a type of rock not native to South Florida but easily obtainable in Central America. Examining the axes, Riggs saw evidence of trade routes between the Yucatán peninsula, Cuba, and Florida, traveled by navigators in huge oceangoing canoes. And looking at the other basins in the circle, he thought he could make out the eroded remains of images that would have been familiar to such intrepid mariners -- the outlines of a whale, two sharks, a sea turtle, a dolphin, and a manatee. For the surveyor it all seemed to jibe perfectly: The circle was a calendar cut from stone, a product of Mayan astronomical genius, and it had been used by the people who once lived at Brickell Point to track the annual movements of the sun, probably for some religious or ritualistic purpose.

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