HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN FLORIDA

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The Miami Circle

An interview with Miami Circle archaeologist Bob Carr.

There has been a considerable amount of press coverage of the “Miami Circle,” an archaeological discovery site located in downtown Miami. Randy Nimnicht, President of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, recently spoke with County Archaeologist Bob Carr about the site.

Randy Nimnicht:

How is it possible to forge long term relationships with developers in order to make findings such as the Brickell site possible?

Bob Carr:

I think the basic ingredient for balancing the interest of preservation with that of development is establishing a mutual trust. Without trust you canft move forward, you have to do what you say youfre going to do and you have to know what the rules and regulations are. But more importantly you have to understand the point of view of the property owner, of the developer. You have to understand the position that they are in. Once you can empathize with their position then it is possible to be adaptive to what their concerns are to perhaps better make your case to what the archaeological concerns are. So I think itfs possible through mutual trust and communication and building that bridge.

Randy Nimnicht:

In effect, there has been a whole set of rules put in place over the years that pretty well dictate how a developer can dance and how the county archeologist can dance. You have to consider legal actions, you have to consider the authority you have. Whatfs your estimate on the overall balance? Do you think there is a pretty good balance between preservation interests and development interests?

Bob Carr:

I think currently the balance between preservation interest and property rights is fairly even. That means property rights are certainly being respected in regard to the laws, and certainly archaeological interests and preservation interests are also being served. For example, here in Miami-Dade County, since 1981 there has been no less than 35 archaeological sites that have been designated or set aside with a county ordinance. That designation has allowed for these sites to actually be preserved, largely in the western, urban parts of Miami-Dade County. I think you have to understand, going back to the first question, that the laws are the bow that sets the arrow into motion but the arrow trajectory is controlled in part by the personnel or the staff and you have a responsibility to not only interpret the laws correctly, but to regulate in a humanistic way and never loose site of the fact that you are dealing with real human beings that have real issues and real money at stake in the process of land regulation.

Randy Nimnicht:

One of my fears for the future is the personality of future administrators of the program that come into play. I know you are nearing your retirement from public life, but I believe over the years, that your low key, conciliatory personality has had a major impact on getting work done, getting data out, and in (HMSFfs) case all those archaeological findings and material artifacts coming into our collection. What do you think the prospects for the future are?

Bob Carr:

Well I have to be optimistic, if I let this program live and die by my personality alone thatfs a pretty gloomy thought. I believe that the program has a foundation, it has a face that is not only historic in terms of what we created, but has guidelines and standards in ways of implementing the process that I think are abundantly fair to everybody. I think, of course, the personality of this new director is important, so I think they have to select a person who not only can deal with regulations but people as well.

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Randy Nimnicht:

Does the media get in the way of this process?

Bob Carr:

Well, the media is an entity of itself. It has its own agenda, its own life and death, so you can never confuse the media with the truth or with information. It can work for you or against you, and itfs really difficult to say. But sometimes it can definitely get in the way. I have to say that as a personal policy I tend to minimize press releases about projects and what wefre doing, at least if itfs really important enough, until the very end. Because the worst thing you can have is media coverage near the beginning or middle of a project because, for one thing, itfs hard to get your work done, and also you actually subject the site to vandalism because people hear about it and want to go out and dig. But there are times when the media does raise consciousness. In the case of the “Miami Circle” there shouldnft be any doubt that the possibility of this site being preserved, if thatfs a real possibility, is largely because of what the media has created in terms of perception of the people.

Randy Nimnicht:

Itfs nice for the media to be interested in these things and sure nice to have the public interest in it, but sometimes I think that when people read between the lines they paint the developer into a corner as the bad guy. Is that a fair assessment?

Bob Carr:

Thatfs a very fair statement because one of the reasons I go easy with the media is immediately they have got to have a bad guy. They have to have a black and white issue with this classic confrontation between conservationist and developers. Well, if they work hard enough at it, they are going to get it, and that could still happen here, but the truth of the matter is that Michael Baumann has been as cooperative as any developer I have ever worked with. Hefs put his money where his mouth is, hefs sat down at meetings, put in his own time, effort and finances and risk, and hefs in a very very tough position, and I recognize that. Hefs walked into a very tough situation by buying land that happens to have something important on it, and I think the media is often unsympathetic to that.

Randy Nimnicht:

And this could have adverse impact for the program in the future?

Bob Carr:

Thatfs correct. If we donft give the developer a fair shake, whatfs at risk here is future sites. You are going to see a diminishing of cooperation, and in turn discoveries. Wefve created in the last 20 years a climate of cooperation, and you can raise that question with some forcefulness, whether we want one bad experience to destroy the whole atmosphere. That very well could happen.

Randy Nimnicht:

Lets take it out into a broader perspective. How many counties in Florida employ archeologists, and why is it important to have archaeologists?

Bob Carr:

Well, Miami-Dade County is one of the few counties in the state of Florida that has a county archeologist and a historic preservation program that incorporates archaeology. Thatfs important because we are the best guardians of our community. We live here, we raise our children here, we have the responsibility of preserving our past. We cannot look to the state for the true level of effectiveness that we have, or the level of sensitivity. I donft think that the National Register criteria is sufficient. Ifll give you some examples. When we review projects here in Miami-Dade County in terms of archaeological impact, less than 10 percent of them are subject for review by the federal government or by the state. That means that 90 percent of the projects that have actually required archaeological surveys or mitigation or recovery would never have occurred if it were simply left to the state review process, simply because they donft fill that level of guidelines for a state review. So from a regulatory point of view, when the community is interested in their past, theyfve got to do it locally, they canft wait for the big ones to pop up and let the state do whatever they have to do.

Randy Nimnicht:

How long has this program been in place?

Bob Carr:

Since 1981.

   
   
   
   

 

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Randy Nimnicht:

Not only has data come out of that, but also material, and all that material, under contractual agreement between the County and (HMSF), is passed over to (HMSF), and has been held in trust and perpetuity for the public.

Bob Carr:

The second great archaeological discovery of Miami-Dade County will be in the next century when students and researchers across the southeastern United States find out that the archaeological culture presented at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida are one of the strongest and largest in the United States and certainly one of the most important. They donft know that yet. The word is going to get out, and you are going to see a tremendous interest in the Historical Museum’s collection.

Randy Nimnicht:

In your opinion, what is the most important finding at the Brickell site?

Bob Carr:

The Brickell site is important because it represents a part of the town of Tequesta that was at the mouth of the Miami River. But what makes this site significant, aside from all the representative data that we have found in the past, is this one unique discovery. This cut, circular pattern in the rock that in my opinion represents something very special, either a council house or a temple house, and nothing like that has been found before. People have found post holes, and many of them represent houses or dwellings, but nothing has been found that has been complete. And the fact is that these houses that were being built by the Tequesta have the post holes going into the rock, creating these myriad patterns that have never really been seen in the United States in terms of structural footprints being preserved. So in that sense, because of the geology, itfs a very unique element.

Randy Nimnicht:

Whatfs you estimate on the percentage of data that has been recovered right now (February 2)?

Bob Carr:

Well the site is 2.3 acres, and we have really only uncovered an area no greater than 40 square feet. There is no doubt there is a tremendous amount of material and information out there, that if there ever was an opportunity to fully excavate the site, it would be one of the greatest archaeological findings in the state of Florida. We now know that in addition to this circular feature, there are going to be thousands of these houses and maybe some of them are going to be very important structures as well.

Randy Nimnicht:

Diagonally across the river where the Hyatt is built, the name of that site was the Granada Site, and if memory serves, didnft we take 500 cubic feet of cultural material off that site?

Bob Carr:

It was a tremendous amount. It was the biggest archaeological investigation, even to date, thatfs ever been done in Miami-Dade County.

 

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Randy Nimnicht:

Therefs talk about connection to the Mayan Indians. Is there any truth to that?

Bob Carr:

Well, first of all, I donft suppose there is any more connection between this area and the Mayan area in prehistory today. I think much too much has been made of the speculation that the circle could be a Mayan sun dial as speculated by our surveyor. But the evidence does not substantiate that. Although we have found a few exotic artifacts, we have found no definitive Mayan artifacts such as pottery and so forth. Secondly, Mayan architecture is always rectilinear, except for the observatory in the Yucatan, so really nothing about this fits a Mayan connection. Itfs just an exotic way to explain it. But maybe even more importantly, itfs almost a racist way of looking at it. In the development of anthropology and archaeology in the last century, as you know Randy, the 19th Century people looked to Europe, Finland and the Phoenecians and everybody but the Indians. Now when something interesting is found we give a tip of the hat to our Native Americans. But now itfs got to be Mayan, itfs got to be Aztecs; no other Native American can think about astronomy or something sophisticated.

Randy Nimnicht:

People want them to be more than just Tequesta Indians from South Florida.

Bob Carr:

That’s right! They just canft be indigenous people that lived here.

Randy Nimnicht:

Can you tell South Florida History readers about your own career and your plans for the future?

Bob Carr:

Well, I grew up here in Miami and as a kid I was always interested in archaeology and history. Ifve told the story several times, when I was in the seventh grade a kid came into the class named Mark Green who had a bag full of Indian artifacts that he had actually found within a few hundred feet of the site, where the Cy's rivergate (SP?) is today. I was so enchanted that somebody could actually find Indian artifacts here of all places, that with a couple of days of lunch money I convinced them to take me to this secret place. We became fast friends and I got very interested in archaeology. I started writing little reports and things about what Mark and I were seeing. I ended up at Miami High, and by that time looking at college and getting very practical in my old age, and my father persuaded me to believe that I had to do something practical. I wasnft really looking at archaeology, I was looking at being a teacher or writing, but I was only 18; I didnft have anything to write about. But after time and I began to think about archaeology again and realized that even if there was reincarnation, I was only going to remember one life at a time, so I was going to do what I wanted to do, and so I switched majors, went over to FSU from the University of Miami, majored in archaeology and anthropology and got a job quicker than you can spin you head. Ross Morrel, State Archeologist in Tallahassee at the time, gave me my first position there. Ross was great. He said “Bob, I want you to know why I am hiring you. Ifm hiring you because youfre from Miami. Nobody wants to go down there to do any work.”

Randy Nimnicht: (Laughing)

And this was 25 years ago?

Bob Carr:

1974, I guess. I said thatfs fine with me. And my first assignment was Arch Creek. Then went to work for the National Parks Service for three years, worked in the Big Cypress during the acquisition process. That was an incredible project. And finally when the State-County survey was being funded in 1978 and e79, I got involved in that project here and that became a full time position working for the county. So thatfs pretty much it in a nutshell. As far as the future is concerned, I have several books Ifd like to finish. One of them, Miami Underground, Ifm trying to complete, I just have to sit down and write it now. And some other things Ifm working on. Ifll be doing consulting work, Ifll be working as the Director for the archaeological Historical Conservancy.

Randy Nimnicht:

Describe your relationship with the Historical Museum of Southern Florida?

Bob Carr:

The relationship has been honed over many years. Itfs been a very positive one. I have tried to make myself available to the Museum to allow for the knowledge and expertise that I have and other staff people have to deal with assessing the material cultural items and particularly archaeological. More importantly, defining a relationship with the Museum, naming the Museum as the official repository for all of the items that we have recovered over the last 20 years, to help build a research collection that will be next to none in terms of how it can be used for future generations, students and scientists.


This interview is from South Florida History magazine.

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