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Remains Of 7,000-Year-Old Civilization Found At Related Group Site Along Miami River

Related Group's development site at 444 Brickell Ave.

A groundbreaking archaeological discovery at a massive project site on the Miami River from one of Miami's most prominent developers has kicked off a debate about how to properly preserve the city's history amid a historic economic boom.

Archaeologists have uncovered remains of a civilization that dates back 7,000 years on the south bank of the Miami River and west of the Brickell Avenue bridge, including tools, spearheads, structural elements and human remains that indicate ritual burials, the Miami Herald reports.

The fossils were uncovered during the excavation of a three-tower Related Group luxury residential development site near Brickell. They indicate that the Tequesta Native American tribe had a larger settlement along the river than previously known, archaeologists told the Herald, and that life in Miami dates back to the Archaic period.

“You’re going back to the time of the emergence of the first cities in Mesopotamia," William Pestle, an archaeologist and chairman of the anthropology department at the University of Miami, told the Herald. "It’s thousands of years before the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. By any measure, this is an early manifestation of human activity. This is legitimately old.”

The site has been under excavation for 16 months, the Herald reports, but the extent and significance of the findings have been kept largely quiet until recently.

At a Tuesday night meeting, the Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board voted 8-0 to direct city planning officials to consider granting legal protections to the site, the Herald reported, even though the item wasn't on the agenda. Archaeologists, including Pestle, attended the meeting, as well as one in January, to push the board to take the step, accusing the city and developers of trying to keep the discoveries "under wraps."

“This should be a World Heritage Site,” preservation board member Bob Powers said at the meeting, according to the Herald. “People should come from all over the world to see it.”

Related Group acquired the property at 444 Brickell Ave. in 2013 for $104M. Last month, Related secured a $164M construction loan to begin working on the first residential tower, per the Herald.

The discovery is just steps from the 1998 discovery of the Miami Circle, now a National Historic Landmark, a Tequesta relic that traces 2,000 years back in time.

Related Group didn't respond to Bisnow's request for comment. The developer has been largely silent on the excavation, although its attorney said it would make a presentation to the preservation board in April. In a statement, the developer told the Herald that the firm “has followed all existing laws and regulations for any site in a designated archaeological zone.”

“For over a year and a half, we have performed the meticulous excavation, analysis, organization, regular reporting to applicable regulatory authorities and careful preservation of all relevant findings,” the statement says. 

The developer is planning three towers on the site branded as the Baccarat Residences Brickell. The city allowed the developer to start work on a portion of the site where excavation has already been completed, which Pestle said at the meeting Tuesday meant some of the site was "covered with soil and probably lost forever," the Herald reported.

If the city declares the site a protected archaeological landmark, it could require Related — which has covered the cost of the excavation thus far — to preserve all or part of the site and include public exhibition space in any development.

Related Topics: The Related Group, Related Group