Magic Primeval, Part 2

On the eve of its permanent disfigurement, the Miami Circle unleashed its mysterious powers of survival


More of those mysteries are coming to light one morning in the middle of August 2000, on the next-to-last day of a dig at Brickell Point by University of Houston archaeologist Randolph Widmer. In the shade of blue tarps set up about 80 feet east of the circle (which has been exposed for the first time in months for further mapping and photography), Widmer's students scrape away at a gray moonscape cluttered with innumerable round holes.

John Ricisak and a visiting Ryan Wheeler stand nearby, talking about one of the last things Wheeler did at the end of his dig: He'd risked his neck to scale the billboard over Brickell Avenue and recover Baumann's Brickell Pointe luxury high-rise sign for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. (Incredibly the land Baumann has chosen for his next project, just south of the Atlantis condominium on Brickell, also harbors an archaeological site; fortunately for the developer, it is neither as significant nor as well preserved as that at Brickell Point.) Not far away, Ted Riggs leans against his green pickup truck, holding a scale model labeled "The Miami River Circle Calendar Almanac Ceremonial Site" and explaining the intricate workings of his theory to a pair of skeptical graduate students. He'd been wrong about the Maya, he says; now that radiocarbon dating has shown material from the circle could be as many as 2000 years old, it's obvious to him that the much older Olmec civilization constructed the thing. The students listen politely, only occasionally exchanging looks of disbelief.

The one person missing from this tableau appears a few minutes later, scuffling through the sandspurs with two BBC documentary-makers in tow. A year and a half after leaving his county post, Bob Carr looks, amazingly, ten years younger. No doubt the lower stress levels of his new job have played a part in his apparent rejuvenation, but most of the credit goes to a more striking physical change: He's shaved off the bristly blond-gray mustache that dominated his features for more than twenty years. By doing so he's uncovered the face of a kid, a face not too far removed from the teenager who got his first taste of archaeology only a few hundred feet away, digging on land now occupied by the Sheraton Biscayne Bay.

Carr has -- there's no avoiding the phrase -- come full circle. The irony isn't lost on him; it's part of a larger pattern in his life that strikes him as more than a little weird: his seeming inability to get away from downtown Miami. In his entire life in South Florida, he's either lived or worked within a one-mile radius of the mouth of the Miami River. "I find that really peculiar, because I'm definitely not trying to do that," Carr says, after handing off the BBC people to John Ricisak. "That's not one of my goals in life, to live or work in downtown Miami. It's very strange to have put in literally 40 years at the mouth of the river. I've seen the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold here. I've seen Hurricane Donna's wrath. I've seen so many things. I feel like I'm a part of that history now."

For Carr being part of history doesn't mean not being part of the present. His profile is even higher now than it was for most of his career with the county, in large part because of his involvement with the controversy over the city's attempt to sell Brickell Park, which lies just south of the Sheraton. (Carr's revelation that the tiny park holds both prehistoric and historic graves has forced the city commission to revisit the issue and substantially reduced the odds that the land will be sold for development.) At the same time, his Archaeological and Historical Conservancy has surveyed part of the One Miami site north of the river, finding -- no doubt much to the relief of Joe Carollo -- little of consequence.

Still, no matter how much more archaeology Carr takes part in, it seems unlikely that anything else he finds will ever match the simple circle of holes in the limestone that lies just below his feet. In all probability he will never again experience anything like the discovery of the Miami Circle; it too is part of history, an episode like South Florida had never seen before and probably will never see repeated.

Then again there are Tequesta bones buried all over downtown Miami. And if the ancestral spirits Paul Eagleheart saw are still loose, well, anything could happen.


The High Cost of Culture
By Jacob Bernstein

Despite the Miami-Dade County Commission's agreement to purchase the Miami Circle, efforts to pay for the site and ensure its future are far from over. "We have a ways to go to turn the property around," acknowledges Michael Spring, executive director of the county's department of cultural affairs, whose job it is to coordinate the circle's salvation.

Imagine a series of running relays stretched over a marathon-length distance. The runners may have visions of the finish line, but summoning the energy to carry them through to the end is a daunting challenge. And frustratingly, beyond each bend lies another and another. So it has been with the Miami Circle's financial struggles.

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