Archaeologists Find Ancient Village Buried Under Downtown Miami

By Joelle Renstrom | Published

An archaeologist digs for ancient artifacts at a construction site in downtown Miami February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson
I used to watch Miami Vice with my dad when I was a little kid, and the show left me with a couple of fairly stubborn opinions — that men looked good in white sports coats, that cars could be cool after all, and that Miami is bad-ass. When I visited over 15 years later, I was shocked at South Beach — apparently Don Johnson had seriously changed things! Anyway, it’s true that Miami has a lot going for it, and now it’s got something new: an ancient village buried under its downtown.

In one of the strangest juxtapositions of old and new, of ancient and ersatz, it turns out that a site dating back thousands of years resides underneath a $600 million network of offices and condos. And it’s not just a couple artifacts here and there. Bob Carr, an archaeologist who conducted an analysis of the site said, “In some ways, I would say it’s probably the best-preserved prehistoric town plan in eastern North America.” It’s also one of the first examples of urban planning, including the placement of buildings, that archaeologists have found in that part of the country.

Archaeologists dig for ancient artifacts at a construction site in downtown Miami

The site was first discovered back in 2005 during a parking lot excavation. Since then, archaeologists have dug a series of holes along the foundations of the village where they believe supports for the housing structures may have been positioned. They’ve since used the holes to conduct their survey of the site, which they determined to be a settlement of the Tequesta, a tribe that lived in the Miami area, near the Biscayne Bay, about 2,000 years ago.

While exciting, the situation is also complicated given that the site is right in the middle of a booming area of Miami that contains luxury condos, hotels, and swanky restaurants. The Metropolitan Miami Complex, which is planned to contain a movie theater, stores, restaurants, and a massive hotel, is currently being built on the site, and after a decade is almost done. It’s the final phase of a major development project, and…well, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to it now.

A similar site, discovered in 1998, became a park after the city bought the land from the developer. Developers in the current situation have suggested rebuilding and displaying a Tequesta structure in the complex’s main square and will find out in February what Miami’s Historic Preservation Board and City Commission think of the plan. Other artifacts have been found at the site, and many officials believe it will become a National Historic Landmark, if not a UNESCO World Heritage site. That makes sense to me — the city of Miami should probably let ancient juju lie.