Magic Primeval, Part 2

Read Part 1 of this story.

Discovered in the fall of 1998 by Miami-Dade County archaeologists Bob Carr and John Ricisak and surveyor Ted Riggs, what came to be known as the Miami Circle quickly drew international attention, much of it centered on the possibility that it was some sort of celestial calendar, perhaps showing a connection between South Florida and the Mayan culture of Central America. It also became the center of a controversy pitting Baumann's right to develop his land against the community's need to preserve its past. That controversy seemed to have been resolved when a judge rejected a court challenge to Baumann's building permits, and the developer compromised with preservationists, giving archaeologists another month to investigate the site and agreeing to have the circle cut out of the ground and moved to another location.

But if Baumann thought these concessions would appease the opposition, he was profoundly mistaken. Two days after a Super Bowl Sunday hearing at Judge Thomas "Tam" Wilson's house, Carr's hunch that the county was about to jump into the circle controversy proved correct when County Manager Merrett Stierheim appointed a task force to tackle the issue. It was announced that the group would seek one of three possible outcomes: if all else failed, making sure the circle was moved properly to a public location (a proposal endorsed by Miami Mayor Joe Carollo); negotiating a land swap for the Brickell Park property just to the south; or, preferably, finding some way to buy the land and preserve it in the public domain.

As tempting as the last possibility was, it also was fraught with difficulty. Baumann had firmly announced he was not willing to sell the site, and that meant that any purchase would have to be done through eminent domain. Carr found that prospect both exciting and disturbing. Although it would mean the preservation not just of the circle but of the largely unexplored site surrounding it as well, it also meant abandoning the methods that had served him so well for two decades. It meant going from negotiation to confrontation and doing so on unfamiliar ground: a hostile eminent domain takeover based on archaeology, which as far as he knew had never been attempted. (Later he would learn there had been an earlier example in Illinois during the Twenties.) "For us, for the archaeologists, there was no precedent," Carr reports. "There's no precedent in the history of archaeological public policy that says, you know, option two or option four is go after eminent domain. That wasn't even an option, because it had never happened before."

Now, though, it seemed it was about to happen. And something else was happening too, something Carr says he never expected to see in Miami. A genuine "people power" movement that cut across cultural, racial, and class lines was beginning to coalesce around the defense of the circle. At dusk on the Tuesday after Super Bowl Sunday, as the sun was fading behind the office towers west of Brickell Avenue, a group of about 40 people gathered outside the site, holding candles, singing, and listening to speeches. Organized by the Urban Environment League, the candlelight vigil was the first spark of what soon became a bonfire of public protests and demonstrations. In the week that followed, the fence around the property bloomed with signs and ribbons brought by anti-development demonstrators who visited daily to check on the site. At lunchtime on the Brickell Avenue Bridge, the committed and the curious alike mingled to watch the slow progress of the archaeologists. A group of Buddhist monks even scaled the fence, only to be run off by the police. And hundreds of schoolchildren were brought by their teachers, who wanted to make sure their students got a chance to see the discovery before it was destroyed.

All of this made for wonderful television, of course, particularly the images of the kids, with their worried little faces and earnest pleas for someone to help the circle. To Carr the whole scene was surreal -- "like something out of a Sixties B movie" -- and the coverage was close to overwhelming. "I've never been in such an intensive situation," he admits. "There was literally a daily appetite of news that had to be met, even with live cam-shots at noon for people homebound during the day. There were days where the helicopters were coming over us continually, fighting for airspace -- where the media were clamoring and crowded outside the fences, and we were having a hard time managing them. We were on the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, the BBC.... There were so many vying interests." Carr was in the middle of the maelstrom, the one person to whom everybody wanted to talk. Even though he knew that the situation now had more to do with emotions and politics than with reason, he did his best to project an impression of restraint and scientific detachment. With so much at stake and feelings running so high, it was important that the archaeologists maintain their credibility, especially since the county seemed about to come out in favor of preserving the site.

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Jim Kelly