Season 38 Episode 3

The Mystery of the Miami Circle

Aired Tuesday 9:00 PM Jan 25, 2001 on BBC Two
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Episode Summary

The Mystery of the Miami Circle
Horizon documents what happens in July 1998 in Miami, Florida, where six apartment blocks have just been demolished to allow the construction of two brand new 40-story skyscrapers. As construction workers prepare the site, they notice a strange phenomenon in the ground - a perfectly preserved circle of large holes, almost 13 metres across. What they had stumbled upon would generate huge excitement and controversy: either they had unearthed a rare and mysterious 2,000 year old Indian site - or a 1950s septic tank…

…or an ancient inverted American Stonehenge… or a unique Mayan village in North America. For a while theories ranged far and wide. But finally, after examining the strategically-placed holes, and the range of artefacts found around the circle - stone tools, shark bones, axe heads - archaeologists began to believe that this was a genuinely unique site - the remains of a mysterious forgotten tribe called the Tequesta.

The Tequesta were described by the Spanish in the 16th century, and later by British missionaries, as bloodthirsty, barbarous and impossible to approach without fear of attack. Unlike the better known tribes in the North of Florida who lived in settled villages and farmed the land, the Tequesta roamed in small hunting bands, deep in the impenetrable Everglades. This was why they had never left traces of their lifein the everglades. Almost nothing was known about them; they had all died out by the 18th century.

And yet, here, in downtown Miami, lying between the glittering Hyatt Hotel and a sleek modern skyscraper, was this extraordinary 2,000 year old site, apparently built by the stone-age Tequesta. As the archaeologists started to dig, the site became more and more intriguing, with more and more artefacts, more and more carefully placed holes. What was it? By then the 'Miami Circle' was already the subject of local media frenzy. Under pressure from a fascinated public, the State of Florida ended up buying the muddy site from the developer for the unheard of sum of $27 million. The digging continued.

Although it may be many years before the Miami site is completely investigated, what scientists now realise is that all the holes dug into the limestone are post holes for houses and meeting halls built - on stilts. Indeed, this appears to have been a whole village on stilts, built high over the land to avoid the tidal waters that regularly flooded hurricane-prone Miami. And this village is recreated through 3D graphics.

So it turns out that the 'barbarous' Tequesta were not nomads at all - they were sophisticated architects, with a unique lifestyle that archaeologists finally have some clues about. Slowly they are piecing together the first real picture of this mysterious forgotten tribe, who lived in an earlier downtown Miami.moreless

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