May 23, 2023 - Development

Fate of ancient Tequesta site in hands of Miami preservation board

Native American protesters dressed in traditional garments do a performance.

Native Americans participate in a prayer walk protesting the excavation of a prehistoric Tequesta site in Brickell. Photo: Martin Vassolo/Axios

The prehistoric Tequesta site discovered in Brickell could become a condo complex, protected landmark or something in between.

Why it matters: Despite a protest from local Native American tribes, a preliminary vote by Miami's Historic and Environmental Preservation Board would allow some development at the 2,500-year-old archaeological site that sits at the mouth of the Miami River.

  • It could be the most significant local archaeological discovery since the nearby Miami Circle National Historic Landmark in 1998, the Miami Herald reports.

Catch up fast: Related Group, a local development company that owns the parcels at 777 SE Fifth Street and 444 Brickell Ave., has plans to build a condo building and two other towers on the parcels.

  • It began excavating at the first site in 2021 and discovered artifacts, foundation holes for ancient structures and human remains.
  • The human remains will be reburied at the site in coordination with the state and Florida tribes, the company said in a public meeting.

The latest: The board voted in April to allow development at the 777 site, but also to begin the process of designating the 444 parcel as a historic site before excavation.

  • Board member Denise Galvez Turros tells Axios that the board would be able to limit development of the site through the designation.
  • She says she doesn't want the site to become a dog park like the Miami Circle and would like the sites to be connected through a riverwalk.

What they're saying: Miccosukee Tribe member Betty Osceola, who helped organize a prayer walk earlier this month protesting the excavation, tells Axios she wants all the artifacts and remains reburied and preserved.

  • She says Related could use non-invasive means, like holographic technology, to display the findings without unburying them.
  • Despite the preliminary vote to designate the 444 site, Osceola says she isn't optimistic it will be preserved.
  • "It's looking like Related Group is still going to get what they want," Osceola said.

The other side: In a statement, a Related Group spokesperson tells Axios that the company has followed all regulations, including required consultation with native groups.

  • The board directed Related to come up with a preservation plan at the excavation site, he says, which "enables us to continue the archaeological excavation while developing a plan to honor the site and secure the appropriate placement of the artifacts for future study."

What's next: Galvez Turros said she hopes the board will take a final vote on whether to designate the 444 site in July.


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