Archeologists say they have unearthed what is probably one of the most important prehistoric sites in America—on land in downtown Miami earmarked for a huge entertainment complex. The researchers confirm that after months of work they have found evidence of an extensive Tequesta Indian village dating back up to 2,000 years on what they believe was part of the city's original shoreline. The site where a developer plans to build movie theaters, restaurants, and a 34-story hotel has also produced thousands of artifacts. NPR in November spoke to chief archeologist Bob Carr, who gave a brief history of the Tequesta. "They probably encountered Ponce de Leon," he said, along with the founder of St. Augustine. Those meetings would have kicked off their demise; Carr believes the thousands-strong population was whittled to fewer than 300 within 200 years of encountering Europeans.
But the site they left behind is "one of the earliest urban plans in eastern North America," Carr tells the Miami Herald. "You can actually see this extraordinary configuration of these buildings and structures." And it has yielded more bits of history: "Sandwiched over" the site were artifacts from Fort Dallas, which factored into two of the Seminole Indian wars of the 1800s, and from Henry Flagler’s 1897 Royal Palm Hotel, which the Herald describes as having "prompted the founding of the city of Miami." Preservation officials have called for a major redesign of the entertainment complex project to save as much of the site as possible. They note that while MDM Development Group could be out a lot of money, it was well aware of the risk it was taking when it bought the land, which falls inside a designated archeological zone. Though the true significance of the site only became clear after the last six months of work, Carr has been making discoveries there since 2005. (Click to read about another recent discovery in the heart of a major city.)