Miami Circle National Historic Landmark


Objects excavated from the Miami Circle include stone axes; chipped stone artifacts; pumice; galena; and bone and shell implements. Specialized studies included zooarchaeological analysis of animal bones from the site and radiocarbon dates. [information and images from]

Over 500 bone and tooth artifacts from the Miami Circle at Brickell Point have been studied and compared with artifacts from the nearby Granada site. Tools were made from deer foot bones, shark teeth and bones from a few other species. Most of the bone tools from the Miami Circle are everyday tools associated with weaving, processing leather, wood carving, and bone working. Decorated bone artifacts from the Miami Circle are rare, but include one small, round pendant engraved with concentric circles. Similar pendants, made of shell, are known from other Florida prehistoric sites.

Most of the pottery sherds from the Miami Circle are from simple, undecorated bowls, though some decorated types are present, including Fort Drum Incised, Fort Drum Punctated, Opa Locka Incised, and Key Largo Incised. The pottery sherds help archaeologists date the site to around 500 B.C.-A.D. 1200, known as the Glades I and II periods. Pottery types brought in from neighboring areas include sherds of the Deptford series. Another indicator of regional exchange are fragments of at least one ceramic platform pipe. St. Johns Check Stamped and Glades Tooled types also were identified during the ceramic analysis, indicating some occupation during later time periods.

The Miami Circle produced almost 1500 pieces of chipped stone debitage and some finished tools. This is rare for sites in southern Florida where outcrops of chert do not exist. Archaeologist Robert Austin studied the chert tools and fragments from the Miami Circle and found examples of different types of chert from outcrops central Florida and the Tampa Bay area, some 320 km from the Miami. Chipped stone artifacts from the site are mainly flakes, cores and unmodified cobbles, hammerstone fragments, bifaces (probably arrowheads or knives), unifaces, and microliths. The stone tool technology of the Miami Circle is most similar to that of the Fort Center site, located about 170 km from the Miami Circle, on the western side of Lake Okeechobee. Study of the chert tools and fragments from the Miami Circle are important in understanding exchange relationships that were active some 2,000 years ago in the Florida panhandle.

University of Miami geologist Jacqueline Dixon and her colleagues studied the stone celts or axes recovered during excavation of the Miami Circle. Neither object showed signs of use. One of the celts was found in place inside one of the holes in the bedrock. Spectrographic analysis of the basaltic celt fragments from the site indicates that the Macon, Georgia area is a likely source for this material. This analysis is important since it helped dispel speculation that the stone celts were proof of contact with the Caribbean, Mesoamerica, or northern South America. The sourcing study also helps demonstrate that the Tequesta and their ancestors participated in long-distance exchange networks with other parts of Florida and the Southeast.

Some stone scrapers made of flint, were found on the site. Because there were only three modest sources in Florida, much of the flint was imported from sources near current day Savannah and Columbus, Georgia. Scrapers had many uses, the foremost of which were scraping animal or reptile skins and removing charcoal from trunks in the process of canoe building.

Florida State University geologist Stephen Kish and archaeologist Ryan Wheeler studied a large sample of pumice artifacts from the Miami Circle. Pumice is a light, frothy glass that is produced during volcanic eruptions. It does not occur naturally in Florida. Analysis of pumice artifacts from the Miami Circle and other Florida sites reveal a uniform group of shapes and wear patterns, and a common source in the area around Veracruz on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. The large number of pumice artifacts from the Miami Circle may be associated with a major eruption or a major storm event that washed pumice deposits into the ocean. The lack of other exotic materials from Mexico in Florida archaeological sites suggests that the pumice was not transported to Florida by humans, but rather by ocean currents. The study shows that similar pumice artifacts are found at the Miami Circle and sites like Fort Center on the western side of Lake Okeechobee. This suggests that ancestral Tequesta exchange networks were active around 2,000 years ago and reached well into the interior of Florida.

Most of the shell tools identified from the Miami Circle site are related to woodworking. Most tools were made of the queen or pink conch, though other shells were used, including the Florida horse conch, lucine clams, the helmet shell, and the West Indian chank shell. The chank shell is a rare find in southeastern Florida where it occasionally occurs in the Florida Keys. Many of the shell tools were identified as woodworking tools similar to metal wedges, gouges, and adzes found in nineteenth century American tool boxes. The tools were concentrated in the northwestern quadrant of the Miami Circle excavation where they were probably used near the water’s edge for carving canoes and other large items like bowls and mortars. Like the analysis of bone artifacts the shell tool and ornament assemblage suggests everyday tool making and use at the site.

Florida Museum of Natural History zooarchaeologist Irvy Quitmyer and University of Florida student Erin Kennedy studied the animal bones found at the Miami Circle and concluded that popular foods were marine bony fish, sharks, and rays, as well as freshwater turtles, marine turtles, terrestrial turtles and snakes. (A skull of a bottle-nosed dolphin was found at the base of the circle structure. It was possibly used as a ceremonial offering.) The remains of animals like squirrel, rabbit, deer, dog, and Caribbean monk seal, and birds and amphibians also were found in the samples. Discovered buried under the structure was a complete 5-foot (1.5 m) shark skeleton along with perforated shark teeth. Archaeologists are not sure if the shark internment, which is more recent than the rest of the site, was an offering, a sacrifice or a simple disposal. The perforated shark teeth illustrated were part of weapons and carving tools.

Most of the animals identified came from brackish water habitats like those adjacent to the site in Biscayne Bay as well as the upper reaches of the Miami River and nearby pine woods and hammocks. A variety of methods were used in capturing the animals, including harpoons, nets, hook and line fishing, gathering, as well as fish traps, and canoes were probably important in transporting a day’s catch. In terms of human impact on the environment, Quitmyer and Kennedy note that many of the Miami Circle aquatic species are high level predators—shark, snook, and freshwater bass—possibly indicating the first intensive use of the local environment.

Two galena artifacts were recovered from excavations at the Miami Circle. Galena is a mineral of lead sulfide that forms in cube-like crystals, with major deposits known in Missouri and the upper Mississippi Valley and in Illinois and Kentucky. American Indians used galena as a source of white pigment and as a raw material for making beads, pendants and other ornaments. It was a rare and highly prized mineral exchanged extensively by Native peoples in the Southeastern and Midwestern United States. Florida State University geologist Stephen Kish and his students made a spectrographic analysis of the galena artifacts from the Miami Circle and found that like most other Florida galena artifacts, the Miami Circle specimens share a source in central Missouri.

A small number of historical artifacts were found at the Miami Circle, including iron nails, bullet casings and musket balls, glass bottle fragments, buttons, and historic ceramic sherds like pearlware and stoneware. Artifacts like perforated coins and glass beads are probably associated with Seminole Indians who visited William Brickell’s store at the site between 1870 and 1900. Most of the historic artifacts date to the nineteenth century, though a few creamware sherds may be earlier. Other historic artifacts include clay pipe fragments and a silver thimble.