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Fight To Preserve Prehistoric Village Unearthed in Downtown Miami

MIAMI (CBS4) - A multi-million dollar construction project in Downtown Miami could be coming to a screeching halt because of what archaeologists believe is evidence of an extensive Native American village buried beneath the area.

An old asphalt parking lot used to sit on the site for almost seven decades. For several months, archaeologists have dug up evidence and uncovered foundation post holes for what they believe were Tequesta Indian dwellings which may go back as far as 2,000 years. If so the site, which is where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay, is likely one of the most significant prehistoric sites of its kind in the country.

"It would be ideal for Miami to have this part of its history preserved," said Ryan Franklin of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, who is the site's field director.

The problem is the site is being prepared for major construction.

Developer MDM already has plans to build movie theaters, restaurants and a hotel on the two-acre site area located on the corner of SE 3rd avenue and SE 4th street. The City of Miami has already granted approval for zoning and development of the project.

But evidence of at least six structures pre-dating Christ, postholes in a foundation of limestone, were uncovered here. Franklin said it would be a travesty if this find is destroyed.

"It's a very extensive and well-planned engineered village," he said.

The archaeological process has already cost MDM more than $3 million and changes to their plans would be astronomical. Instead, MDM said it's willing to compromise and preserve two of the six posthole circles that were unearthed. The developer offered to also display them in a public plaza included in the current plans.

"We look forward to execution of a plan that will preserve for all time some of the significant finds and allow the public to gain a sense of the civilization that once lived on this site," according to a statement by MDM.

But Franklin said preserving only a couple of parts of the ancient site isn't enough.

"If you have a book and you tear out a chapter, you lose the integrity of the book," he said. "You might have this part of it, but you lose part of the story."

A similar heated dispute took place to save the Miami Circle. A set of postholes discovered in 1998 on the south bank of the river opposite the river from the newly uncovered Tequesta village site.

The developer sold the property back to the state in that case for 27 million dollars. The city's historic preservation board will meet in the next two weeks to debate what happens with this latest case.

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