Native American activists want digging to stop at Brickell archaeological site

MIAMI – Two Florida Native American activists are asking the city of Miami to stop an ongoing archaeological dig at the site of a future development in the Brickell neighborhood.

Archaeologists have unearthed what’s been described as a “treasure trove” of artifacts at the 444 Brickell parcel, located at the corner of Southeast Fifth Street and Brickell Avenue.

It’s set to be home to a series of towers, including the Baccarat Residences.

The artifacts found at the parcel range from pottery shards and stone tools to human remains, likely dating back to when the Tequesta people called the area along the Miami River home.

On Monday, bioarchaeologist and University of Miami Professor Will Pestle told Local 10 News the site dates back to prehistoric times — as long as 7,000 years ago.

“(It’s) older than the pyramids. It is older than the colosseum in Rome,” Pestle said. “This is a site that has great antiquity.”

An archaeological assessment, conducted in 2021, laid out the myriad artifacts and remains found at the site.

Archaeological assessment:

Robert Rosa, with the American Indian Movement of Florida and Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and an environmental educator and activist, are both asking the city to stop digging at the site.

“I was a little bit angered and felt like our ancestors were being disrespected,” Osceola said.

Osceola said the area should be preserved like the nearby Miami Circle. She says her uncle played a crucial role ensuring the Tequesta artifacts at that site were protected.

“That same action needs to be done for this area as well,” she said.

#DigitalDeepDive - Robert Rosa and Betty Osceola speak to Local 10 News:

Rosa calls the ongoing dig a “big desecration.”

“Leave it alone, (these are) our ancestors we wouldn’t go and take your grandmother out of the grave to see what (she was) buried with and why,” he said. “If you can’t respect us, expect us.”

In a statement, the Related Group, which is developing the site, said in part that it “has worked in close collaboration with archaeologists, the City of Miami, and the State of Florida’s official tribal representatives to meticulously excavate the site and document any findings” and is fully complying with requirements.

“The Related Group and the project archaeologists have met with the Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for the Seminole Tribe of Florida and their staff to assure the respectful recovery, preservation, and eventual reburial of the remains,” its statement said.

The company later told Local 10 News that it is aware of Osceola’s concerns and hopes to invite her into the conversation to hear what she and other tribal members have to say.

Related Group statement:

“All authorities with jurisdiction over this archaeological review process have been engaged, visited the site and have received weekly reports of all finding for the past 2 years, in accordance with applicable law and at great expense. This includes all appropriate local, state, and tribal authorities. We have not been contacted by Ms. Betty Osceaola but would welcome an opportunity to meet with her. The artifacts discovered thus far have been recovered in accordance to the archaeological management plan approved by the governing authorities and are not mandated to remain in place. The archaeologists managing the process are in agreement that the artifacts will have the most social and historical value if housed in a museum or in an educational setting.

Archaeologist Robert (Bob) Carr, who has over forty years’ experience of investigating the archaeological sites at the mouth of the Miami River, such as the Miami Circle, the Hyatt site, Icon Brickell and MET Square, reports that the prehistoric and historic artifacts from the 444 Brickell site are a major contribution for our knowledge of the Tequesta. Radiocarbon dates from the site indicates Native people lived there from at least as early as AD100, almost 2,000 years ago. Although six to seven thousand year old chert projectile points have been found-many in the upper levels of the site – this indicates that they may have been trade items curated by the Tequesta, but do not represent the age of the site. Other artifacts found include galena, copper beads, basalt axes, and quartz traded from other parts of North America. This site differs from the Miami Circle and MET Square because thru the archaeological exploration, it has recovered artifacts, such as tools and ornaments made from shells, bone and stone and environmental material such seeds, shells and animal bones that are important for public interpretation, study and research.

This rich assemblage of cultural material from the Brickell site will provide a tremendous boast to our knowledge of the Tequesta for decades to come - teaching us about the harvesting of native plants, fishing and hunting practices that targeted whales and the extinct monk seal, and trade networks linking ancient Miami to the American Midwest and the Appalachian Mountains. Upon completion of the archaeological exploration, all of these findings will be part of a major interpretative exhibit that will be preserved for further research and study in a reputable institution or non-profit and displayed for the public. The significance of the site will be honored through interpretive signage and displays on site.”

Related Group statement

“A Phase III excavation has been completed at the southern half of the parcel, documentation and final reports of the findings are underway,” Fallat said. “Staff has received a completion report, and reviews of the master permit for the new construction proposed in this area have been approved. As for the northern half of the parcel, a Phase III excavation is on-going.”

She said findings are being “properly stored and documented for a final report” and city staff are continuing to visit the site regularly and are working with state officials.

“A presentation will be made at the upcoming April 4th Historic and Environmental Preservation Board meeting of the procedures followed and significance of the two sites,” Fallat said.

Site location:

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.