Seawall damage threatens artifacts at 2,000-year-old Miami Circle 6-21-07

MIAMI (AP) - Artifacts surrounding a 2,000-year-old American Indian circular carving may be swept into the Miami River in the next severe storm, now that a nearby seawall has collapsed, officials said.

The 38-foot Miami Circle is not in jeopardy, but unexcavated bones, pottery, beads or tools around it could be washed away, said archaeologist Bob Carr.

The circle was carved into the limestone bedrock by the now-extinct Tequesta Indians. Discovered in 1998 on the site of a planned luxury high rise, it remains closed to the public. Various government agencies, developers and cultural groups have been unable to agree on how to open the site to visitors.

State engineers surveyed the crumbling, 100-foot-long section of seawall Wednesday and planned to line the riverbank with large boulders as a temporary fix. Archaeologists said that probably nothing valuable was lost when the seawall collapsed two weeks ago.

“There is an average of 15 to 20 feet of fill before you get into any archaeological deposits. But it can't get any closer than it is now,” said Jeff Ransom, Miami-Dade County's archaeologist.

The seawall has long been deteriorating, and officials worry that the remaining 300 feet could break off at any time, leaving the waterfront site exposed to eroding currents, tides and ship wakes, along with storms.

Some environmentalists have questioned why the seawall has been neglected since the state and county bought the property in 1999 for $26.7 million.

Ryan Wheeler, chief of the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, said a $600,000 repair plan was derailed two years ago by a dredging project on the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had also questioned whether the repairs would interfere with long-term plans to deepen the channel, he said.

Designs to build a new seawall estimate the cost at $2.5 million, Wheeler said. The state agency plans to ask the Legislature to fund that project while emergency repairs stabilize the site for the current hurricane season.