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http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-26025763

Earliest footprints outside Africa discovered in Norfolk

7 February 2014 Last updated at 10:30

By Pallab Ghosh

Science correspondent, BBC News

 

Scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of human footprints outside of Africa, on the Norfolk Coast in the East of England.

 

The footprints are more than 800,000 years old and were found on the shores of Happisburgh.

 

They are direct evidence of the earliest known humans in northern Europe.

 

Details of the extraordinary markings have been published in the science journal Plos One.

 

The footprints have been described as "one of the most important discoveries, if not the most important discovery that has been made on [Britain's] shores," by Dr Nick Ashton of the British Museum.

 

"It will rewrite our understanding of the early human occupation of Britain and indeed of Europe," he told BBC News.

 

The markings were first indentified in May last year during a low tide. Rough seas had eroded the sandy beach to reveal a series of elongated hollows.

 

The footprints on Happisburgh beach are possibly those of a family in search of food

I walked with Dr Ashton along the shore where the discovery was made. He recalled how he and a colleague stumbled across the hollows: "At the time, I wondered 'could these really be the case? If it was the case, these could be the earliest footprints outside Africa and that would be absolutely incredible."

 

Such discoveries are very rare. The Happisburgh footprints are the only ones of this age in Europe and there are only three other sets that are older, all of which are in Africa.

 

"At first, we weren't sure what we were seeing," Dr Ashton told me, "but it was soon clear that the hollows resembled human footprints."

 

The hollows were washed away not long after they were identified. The team were, however, able to capture the footprints on video that will be shown at an exhibition at London's Natural History Museum later this month.

 

The video shows the researchers on their hands and knees in cold, driving rain, engaged in a race against time to record the hollows. Dr Ashton recalls how they scooped out rainwater from the footprints so that they could be photographed. "But the rain was filling the hollows as quickly as we could empty them," he told me.

 

The team took a 3D scan of the footprints over the following two weeks. A detailed analysis of these images by Dr Isabelle De Groote of Liverpool John Moores University confirmed that the hollows were indeed human footprints, possibly of five people, one adult male and some children.

 

Dr De Groote said she could make out the heel, arch and even toes in some of the prints, the largest of which would have filled a UK shoe size 8 (European size 42; American size 9) .

 

"When I was told about the footprints, I was absolutely stunned," Dr De Groote told BBC News.

 

"They appear to have been made by one adult male who was about 5ft 9in (175cm) tall and the shortest was about 3ft. The other larger footprints could come from young adult males or have been left by females. The glimpse of the past that we are seeing is that we have a family group moving together across the landscape."

 

Diagram of footprint scene

It is unclear who these humans were. One suggestion is that they were a species called Homo antecessor, which was known to have lived in southern Europe. It is thought that these people could have made their way to what is now Norfolk across a strip of land that connected the UK to the rest of Europe a million years ago. They would have disappeared around 800,000 years ago because of a much colder climate setting in not long after the footprints were made.

 

It was not until 500,000 years ago that a species called Homo heidelbergensis lived in the UK. It is thought that these people evolved into early Neanderthals some 400,000 years ago. The Neanderthals then lived in Britain intermittently until about 40,000 years ago - a time that coincided with the arrival of our species, Homo sapiens.

 

There are no fossils of antecessor in Happisburgh, but the circumstantial evidence of their presence is getting stronger by the day.

 

In 2010, the same research team discovered the stone tools used by such people. And the discovery of the footprints now all but confirms that humans were in Britain nearly a million years ago, according to Prof Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, who is also involved in the research at Happisburgh.

 

"This discovery gives us even more concrete evidence that there were people there," he told BBC News. "We can now start to look at a group of people and their everyday activities. And if we keep looking, we will find even more evidence of them, hopefully even human fossils. That would be my dream".

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140207083736.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+(Latest+Science+News+--+ScienceDaily)

Dating refined for Atapuerca site where Homo antecessor appeared

Date: February 7, 2014

Source: Plataforma SINC

 

Summary:

One of the issues of the Atapuerca sites that generates the most scientific debate is the dating of the strata where the fossils are found. A study has clarified that the sediment of Gran Dolina, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were discovered in 1994, is 900,000 years old. The findings at the Lower Palaeolithic cave site of Gran Dolina, in the Sierra de Atapuerca mountain range (Burgos), have led to major advancements in our knowledge of human evolution and occupation of Eurasia.

 

One of the issues of the Atapuerca sites that generates the most scientific debate is the dating of the strata where the fossils are found. Therefore, researchers at the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, among others, strive to settle the dates. A study published by the Journal of Archaeological Science has clarified that the sediment of Gran Dolina, where the first remains of Homo antecessor were discovered in 1994, is 900,000 years old.

 

The findings at the Lower Palaeolithic cave site of Gran Dolina, in the Sierra de Atapuerca mountain range (Burgos), have led to major advancements in our knowledge of human evolution and occupation of Eurasia.

In 1995, specifically, the discovery of the first hominid remains in a stratum of land named TD6, which dated from more than 780,000 years back, was made public in the journal 'Nature'. This was the Homo antecessor, the oldest known hominid species in Europe.

As the dating of this and other archaeological sites is the subject of scientific debate -- in 2012, a British newspaper questioned Juan Luis Arsuaga, co-director of the sites, and accused him of "distorting our picture of human evolution" -, the researchers are working to date them more precisely.

As Josep M. Parés, from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution, who is leading this study on the new dating of level TD6 of the Gran Dolina, said: "We are applying new methods and techniques, and we also have better field and laboratory knowledge. We have published a study that represents a small step towards a large project which will take us longer: reviewing all the dates in order to refine them. We want to include it all within a more solid geochronological framework."

What this study strictly contributes is the combination of the technique of palaeomagnetism -- which entails revising the polarity of the materials constituting stratigraphic layers -- with assessing existing dating figures.

"On the one hand we employ paramagnetic resonance, and on the other what is known as optically stimulated luminescence. This provides numerical dates, absolute ages. We have reviewed these and combined them with the new figures from palaeomagnetism in order to expand upon the chronology of this level TD6 of the Gran Dolina and the fossils it contains."

They were previously given a minimum age of 780,000 years and now it is known that they are referring more accurately to around 900,000 years. "The change might sound very small or very large," the expert continues, "but the TD6 stratum is known precisely as having been the place of discovery of the Homo antecessor and this further defines its age."

Since then, a further 90 human fossils and over 200 fragments of carved stone have also been discovered. The extent of the excavation grows ever larger and being able to date it is of great interest to the scientists.

"The site has produced thousands of fossils and artifacts and has become a Pleistocene landmark in studies on early human settlement outside the African continent," the article explains.

Now, they are going to attempt to use individual fossils, especially teeth, and obtain direct dates for the remains found, as well as those already known by their sediments.

"When we handle these figures there are always error margins. For example, when we publish the dating figures for the Sima del Elefante, we are talking about 1.2 million years and the error margin is around 130,000 years. It seems like a huge amount, but it is actually only a small percentage, which can reach 10% of the chronology," Parés concludes.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Plataforma SINC. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

 

Journal Reference:

J.M. Parés, L. Arnold, M. Duval, M. Demuro, A. Pérez-González, J.M. Bermúdez de Castro, E. Carbonell, J.L. Arsuaga. Reassessing the age of Atapuerca-TD6 (Spain): new paleomagnetic results. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2013; 40 (12): 4586 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.06.013

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Plataforma SINC. "Dating refined for Atapuerca site where Homo antecessor appeared." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140207083736.htm>.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-west-wales-26064964

Bronze Age footprints found on Port Eynon, Gower, beach

9 February 2014 Last updated at 13:16

 

Prehistoric footprints have been discovered on Gower after storms revealed an ancient mud bank.

 

The five likely Bronze Age footprints were found at Port Eynon beach by Dr Edith Evans, of the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, during a walk.

 

She said: "They are not the clearest of things but I recognised them straightaway."

 

Other recent beach storm finds include two cannon in Porthcawl and 10,000-year-old tree remains in Pembrokeshire.

 

The trust has been monitoring the coast since 2009 after whole tree trunks started to appear in the peat bed which is being eroded by the sea.

 

Sand which covered the sea bed as a result of erosion was swept away by the storms to uncover the footprints for the first time since they were laid.

 

The footprints have not been radiocarbon dated but are estimated to be from between 2,300 BC and 700 BC.

 

Dr Evans said: "There are five prints, probably made by more than one person as they are of two slightly different lengths, and as two of them point towards the sea and the other three point inland.

 

"The peat has now become so firm that it is impossible to make an impression on it, but when it was first laid down it would have consisted of a soft mass of vegetation.

 

"When the footprints were made, they would have filled up with a deposit of different composition. We assume that the rough seas have washed out this deposit to leave the footprints exposed.

 

"They were not very clear, one reason being that they were partly covered with sand."

 

The trust said since 2007 its volunteers have found cattle and pony hoof prints in a peat bed on Kenfig Sands near Sker Point, Bridgend,

 

Last month, two Georgian-era cannon were found at Pink Bay, Porthcawl, by two dog walkers.

 

It took a team of around 17 lifeboat crew members, coastguards and local lifeguards to move one of the cannon from the beach.

 

Also in January, the remains of 10,000-year-old trees were exposed at Newgale, Pembrokeshire.

 

At the end of the month a ship's wheel which may date back to the 19th Century was uncovered in Swansea Bay.

 

A member of a heritage group found the wheel while exploring sands near Mumbles.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-26081571

Dartmoor tomb treasure hoard uncovered by archaeologists

7 February 2014 Last updated at 13:54

 

Archaeologists from around the UK have been examining a hoard of treasures unearthed in a 4,000-year-old tomb on Dartmoor.

 

Prehistoric jewellery, animal pelts and beads made of amber were among the finds about two years ago in the burial chamber.

 

The chamber, known as a cist, was found on Whitehorse Hill, near Chagford.

 

Dartmoor National Park archaeologists have called it the most important ancient find on the moor.

 

When they levered off the chamber's lid they discovered an intact burial of cremated remains.

 

Coiled bag

The coiled bag has been specially cleaned

 

It was wrapped in an animal pelt, containing a delicate bracelet studded with tin beads, a textile fragment with detailed leather fringing and a unique coiled bag.

 

Jane Marchand, Dartmoor National Park's chief archaeologist, said: "Visibly it's not as impressive as Stonehenge, but archaeologically it's just as important.

 

"It was incredibly exciting to lift the lid and a bead fell out."

 

At the Wiltshire Conservation Lab, the team had the delicate task of trying to reveal the secrets of the coiled bag containing rare beads.

 

Just eight beads have been found on Dartmoor in the last 100 years.

 

Animal pelt

The team is awaiting DNA results to identify what animal the pelt came from

 

Helen Williams, a conservator at the lab, said: "The level of preservation we have got is amazing.

 

"We're awaiting DNA results on the pelt so we can identify what animal it might have come from.

 

"Amazing doesn't really do them justice. It's the most extraordinary assortment of finds with tin beads and wooden ear studs."

 

Archaeologists say the discovery also points to the earliest evidence of tin found in the South West.

 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-02/uoc-ag020514.php

A 'smoking gun' on the Ice Age megafauna extinctions

PUBLIC RELEASE DATE: 5-Feb-2014

Contact: Eske Willerslev

ewillerslev@snm.ku.dk

45-35-32-13-09

University of Copenhagen

 

It was climate that killed many of the large mammals after the latest Ice Age. But what more specifically was it with the climate that led to this mass extinction? The answer to this is hidden in a large number of sediment samples from around the Arctic and in the gut content from permafrozen woolly rhinos, mammoth and other extinct ice age mammals.

 

It is a bit of a shift in paradigme Willerslev and co-workers publish in this week's edition of the journal Nature. The common image of a light-brown grass-steppe dominating the northern hemisphere during the Ice Age does not hold any longer. The landscape was far more diverse and stable than today, and big animals like woolly rhino and mammoth fed on grasses and particularly on protein-rich forbs. But at the Last Glacial Maximum 25,000 – 15,000 years ago, at a time when the climate was at its coldest and driest, a major loss of plant diversity took place. The animals barely survived.

 

After the Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago it became warmer again. After the large reduction of plant diversity during the Last Glacial Maximum another kind of vegetation now appeared. One of the key food sources of the large mammals– the protein-rich forbs – did not fully recover to their former abundance. This likely proved fatal for species like woolly rhino, mammoth, and horse in Asia and North America. Even though it became warmer again after the end of the Ice Age the old landscapes did not return.

 

Professor Eske Willerslev, an ancient DNA researcher and director of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark, says:

 

We knew from our previous work that climate was driving fluctuations of the megafauna populations, but not how. Now we know that the loss of protein-rich forbs was likely a key player in the loss of the ice age megafauna. Interestingly one can also see our results in the perspective of the present climate changes. Maybe we get a hold on the greenhouse gases in the future. But don't expect the good old well-known vegetation to come back when it becomes cooler again after the global warming. It is not given that the 'old' ecosystems will re-establish themselves to the same extent as before the warming. It's not only climate that drives vegetation changes, but also the history of the vegetation itself and the mammals consuming it.

 

Footprints from past ecosystems

 

Professor Christian Brochmann, a botanist at the Natural History Museum at the University of Oslo in Norway, states:

 

We show that the permafrost contains a vast, frozen DNA archive left as footprints from past ecosystems, and that we can dechiffer this archive by exploring the collections of plants and animals stored in Natural History Museums. Using DNA from museum collections as reference, we could identify the different plant species that co-occurred with extinct ice age mammals.

 

Dr. Mari Moora and Professor Martin Zobel, vegetation ecologists from the University of Tartu, Estonia, say:

 

For the first time, ecologists have been able to piece together the characteristics of more complete plant communities occurring in the Arctic during the last 50,000 years. The new information shows clearly that the vegetation of the Late Pleistocene was rich in forbs but lost considerable diversity at the peak of the ice age. Different plant communities, with graminoids and woody plants prevailing, then started to develop during the Holocene.

 

Dr. Pierre Taberlet, an ecologist at the CNRS in France, further states:

 

We should realise that the results presented in this paper would have never been obtained without a very broad collaboration (30 teams from 12 countries) involving the following scientific areas: ancient DNA, palaeo-ecology, taxonomy, molecular ecology, community ecology, zoology, bioinformatics, molecular genetics, and geology. Whereas competition among scientists often is believed to be the main stimulus promoting global scientific output, this study clearly demonstrates that extensive collaboration is a viable alternative.

 

'Smoking gun'

 

The article in Nature elaborates on the Willerslev group's results from 2011 where the researchers pointed at climate as the culprit for the mass extinction of some of the large mammals'. But in 2011 the researchers lacked a 'smoking gun'. Now they got it! 242 permafrost sediment samples and eight fossil samples from large mammals from around the Arctic have been dated and analysed for DNA. The data shows that the likely main reason for the mass extinction of the large mammals after the latest Ice Age is changes in the vegetation.

 

Take-home messages

 

So far the common image of much of the northern hemisphere during the latest Ice Age has been of a landscape dominated by grass steppe. The new results show this to be exaggerated. The landscape was far more diverse and dominated by protein-rich forbs. After the Ice Age the forbs became rarer and some of the large forb-eating mammals went extinct or near-extinct.

Severe climate changes put an extreme stress on animals and plants. After the Last Glacial Maximum the composition of the ecosystems changed. New kinds of vegetation invaded – but without the large herbivores following. When debating the impact of climate change one should not expect the return of the former ecosystems even though the climate change may be reversed.

 

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/centuries-old-fabric-found-in-catalhoyuk.aspx?pageID=238&nID=61883&NewsCatID=375

Centuries-old fabric found in Çatalhöyük

KONYA - Dogan News Agency

 

Excavations works that have been continuing in the earliest settlement of Çatalhöyük in the central Anatolian province of Konya have revealed a 9,000-year-old piece of linen fabric. The world’s first hemp-weaved fabric has been found in the ground of a burned house.

 

The report about the new findings includes the process between June 15 and Aug. 15. More than 120 people from 22 countries worked for the excavations in this process. The most striking thing on the report is this fabric, which was wrapped around a baby skeleton.

 

The head of the excavations, Stanford University member Professor Ian Hodder, said that the most important finding in 2013 had been discovered thanks to protection conditions of the tumulus. Speaking about the piece of cloth, he said:

 

“The fire warmed up the ground and platforms of the building and created a kiln drying effect. Therefore the pieces and this piece of cloth underground have been so far protected. Examinations in the laboratory show that this piece of cloth is linen weaved with hemp.

 

This is a first in the world and one of the best preserved examples.”

 

HDN Speaking about the relation of the piece of fabric with trade, Hodder said, “This piece of linen, which is weaved very thin, most probably came from the eastern Mediterranean from the central Anatolia. It is already known that obsidians and sea shells had been exchanged in long-distance trade in the Middle East during the Neolithic era. But this fabric may have revealed another side of the trade.”

 

Hodder noted that they also had discovered a new wall painting, and continued: “In the 2013 excavation season we also started excavations in the Neolithic era buildings in the southern skirt of the eastern tumulus. These buildings really have different features from the early era buildings. They have thick walls and big bricks on the walls. They were not set fire to when people left them. A wall painting on the eastern wall of a building here is a unique one that we have never seen. Generally, paintings in Çatalhöyük are in red and black colors on white ground. But in this example, there are white geometrical shapes on dark ground. We believe that this painting continues through the northern walls of three buildings. It was an exciting experience for us to unearth this wall.”

 

The report on Çatalhöyük excavations has been published on a website www.catalhoyuk.com. The website is designed for those interested in the ongoing excavations in the ancient settlement. Its aim is to provide information about the activities of the project and the different aspects of the research being conducted in the area.

 

February/03/2014

 

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/9/40/93524/Heritage/Ancient-Egypt/Ancient-mastaba-tomb-found-in-Egypts-Dakahliya.aspx

Ancient mastaba tomb found in Egypt's Dakahliya

Well-preserved mummy among finds in mastaba tomb newly uncovered in Dakahliya

Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 5 Feb 2014

 

A collection of 180 ancient Egyptian ushabti figurines and a limestone sarcophagus have been found in a mastaba tomb in Egypt's Dakahliya.

 

During routine excavation work at Tel Tabla archaeological site in the Delta city of Dakahliya, an Egyptian archaeological mission discovered a mud brick mastaba tomb from the Late Ancient Egyptian period. The tomb consists of a number of burial shafts.

 

Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said that inside one of the burial shafts, excavators uncovered a limestone anthropoid sarcophagus of a lady called Werty, the daughter of Rtrs. Beside the sarcophagus, added Ibrahim, a large collection of 180 ushabti figurines carved in wood and limestone  was unearthed.

 

Aly El-Asfar, head of the Ancient Egypt section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities told Ahram Online that the newly discovered sarcophagus is 1.77 metres tall and 70 centimetres wide. Inside it lays Werty's mummy in a very preserved condition.

 

The sarcophagus lid, explained El-Asfar, features Werty's figure in the Osirian position. Ancient Egyptian prayers are also carved on the lid.

 

El-Asfar pointed out that the ushabti figurines were transferred to the archaeological site's lab for restoration while excavators are busy digging for more funerary objects.

 

http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/12012013/article/researchers-investigate-archaic-greek-city-state-in-crete

Researchers Investigate Archaic Greek City-State in Crete

Thu, Feb 06, 2014

 

An ancient site in eastern Crete may now be providing some answers to the questions of how and why the earliest Archaic city-states on this important Greek island of the Aegean developed and emerged more than 2,500 years ago.

Led by Project Director and archaeologist Donald Haggis of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Field Director Margaret Mook of Iowa State University, a research and excavation team will return to the location of Azoria, an archaeological site situated on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Mirabello in northeastern Crete. Initially explored by the American archaeologist Harriet Boyd-Hawes in 1900, the site has since yielded evidence of human occupation from Final Neolithic times until shortly after 200 B.C.E. The most prolific remains recovered, however, span the periods corresponding to a long, continuous occupation from the Early Iron Age or Greek Dark Age (1200-700 B.C.E.) into the Early Archaic (700-600 B.C.E.).

Haggis and his team first began full-scale excavations at the site in 2002, and continued work at the site through 2006, uncovering, among many other finds, significant structural remains of Archaic civic buildings and houses. Their aim was to explore the early history of the site and develop a stratigraphy and chronology of changes in the settlement during the transition from the Early Iron Age to the Archaic, with a special focus on understanding the development of the 6th-century B.C.E. urban center, the early Greek city-state.

Previous excavations have already uncovered an Archaic multi-room structure called the Communal Dining Building, interpreted as a possible dining hall used for corporate syssitia, (a communal meal of male citizens organized as hetairiai, or clubs); the Monumental Civic Building, a large hall with a stepped bench built into the walls of its interior; and an adjoining two-room shrine. This building complex included nearby buildings or facilities thought to have provided support services, containing multiple store rooms (consisting of food stored in pithoi) and kitchens with stone-lined hearths. Also discovered with the service complex was a well-preserved olive press facility—considered the earliest known beam press of the post-Bronze Age Aegean. Evidence pointed to a fiery destruction at Azoria in the 5th century B.C.E.

 

But the excavation goals go far beyond developing an understanding of one site.

Reports Haggis and Mook: "The excavation constitutes the first case study of the political economy of Archaic Crete, while augmenting our knowledge of the agropastoral resource base of Aegean communities in early stages of urbanization." Researchers hope that knowledge gained from the excavations will inform further exploration of the beginnings of urbanization and the formation of  early Greek city-states in Crete.*

For the coming season of work, set to begin at the end of May, 2014, Haggis and Mook intend to field a team of professional staff, students and volunteers to take up the task of gathering additional archaeological data to help fill in more gaps in the total picture of urban beginnings.

"Our plan of work for 2013-2017 is to excavate an early Greek temple (ca. 1000-700 B.C.E.) and several Archaic-period houses (6th and early 5th c. B.C.E.), and to conduct a number of stratigraphic soundings in the area of the civic buildings in order to refine our understanding of the chronology and history of the site."**

See the project website for more information about the excavations, field school, and how one can participate as a student or volunteer.

The Azoria excavations are conducted under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

 

* http://www.unc.edu/~dchaggis/

** http://www.unc.edu/~dchaggis/Fieldschool.html

 

http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/03/3911049/prehistoric-village-found-in-downtown.html

Prehistoric village found in downtown Miami

BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI

AVIGLUCCI@MIAMIHERALD.COM

 

Archaeologists who for months have been uncovering mounting evidence of an ancient and extensive Native American village in the middle of downtown Miami have concluded it’s likely one of the most significant prehistoric sites in the United States.

 

The archaeologists, under the direction of veteran South Florida archaeologist Bob Carr, have so far painstakingly dug up eight large circles comprised of uniformly carved holes in the native limestone that they believe to be foundation holes for Tequesta Indian dwellings dating as far back as 2,000 years.

 

They have also discovered linear, parallel arrangements of hundreds of such postholes stretching across the site that Carr hypothesizes mark the foundation for other structures, possibly boardwalks connecting the dwellings. The village site borders a rocky outcropping that his team has concluded was the original natural shoreline at the confluence of Biscayne Bay and the Miami River, a spot long ago occluded by fill.

 

“What’s unusual and unique about the site is that it’s this huge chunk of land where a major part of this ancient Tequesta village site is preserved,’’ Carr said in an interview. “It’s one of the earliest urban plans in eastern North America. You can actually see this extraordinary configuration of these buildings and structures.’’

 

The finds, which have not been widely publicized, have placed public officials and a big downtown developer in a major quandary. The Tequesta village site covers roughly half of a long-vacant, two-acre city block on the north side of the river where the developer, MDM Development Group, plans to build movie theaters, restaurants and a 34-story hotel. The project would cover most of the block, including the full archaeological site.

 

The city of Miami granted MDM zoning and development approvals for the Met Square project, though not a final building permit, before the full scope of the archaeological finds was known or understood. The site has also yielded thousands of Tequesta artifacts, including bone and shell tools, as well as newly uncovered remnants of industrialist Henry Flagler’s 1897 Royal Palm Hotel, which gave rise to the city of Miami.

 

State of Florida and Miami-Dade County historic-preservation officials are pressing the city to revisit the Met Square plans to consider possible alternatives that would salvage a portion of or even the full archaeological site. That could require a major, costly redesign of the Met Square project.

 

MDM, which already has leases, agreements and timetables for the theaters, restaurants and hotel, says it could be out a substantial amount of money if that happens. The developer has offered to carve out the limestone holding one or two of the larger circles on the site and display those in a planned public plaza. In recent weeks, MDM officials have discussed doing more in meetings with city and county planners and preservation officials, but have made no promises or commitments.

 

“We will do our utmost,’’ MDM director Ian Swanson said Monday in an interview at the site. “There is no easy answer to this at all.’’

 

While recognizing the site’s importance, Swanson said there are still “ambiguities’’ over precisely what it was. He said the store of artifacts taken from the site and stored at the HistoryMiami museum will provide specialists and historians years’ worth of study and analysis.

 

Carr, who works for MDM, which by law must pay for the archaeological survey, said he has also recommended to his client that as much as possible of the site be preserved in place.

 

“If you have a necklace filled with pearls, what makes it valuable is its entirety, not four or five pearls,’’ Carr said.

 

Preservationists note that MDM took a chance when it purchased the property a decade ago because it knew the site was inside a designated archaeological zone. Though the site was covered by an asphalt parking lot for 70 years, Carr and other archaeologists long suspected it was once part of a Tequesta village given previous finds of burial grounds and middens in the immediate vicinity.

 

The dilemma echoes the battle to save the Miami Circle, a set of postholes discovered by Carr in 1998 on the south bank of the river, opposite the recently uncovered Tequesta village site. Archaeologists concluded the circle marked the site of Tequesta council house or ceremonial structure dating back as far as 2,000 years.

 

After an international uproar, and facing a suit by preservationists, a developer who planned a condo on the site sold the property to the state for $27 million. It has since been turned into a park, though the circle was buried as a protective measure because the state lacked money to exhibit it properly.

 

The city’s historic preservation board, which has legal authority over archaeological sites, is scheduled to receive a monthly update on the newest finds — including the discovery of an eighth circle in the past several days — at its regular meeting Tuesday. The board is also expected to set a special meeting within the next two weeks to debate what to do about the Tequesta site.

 

Preservationists and city board members say there is strong and growing support for measures to save and create a major exhibit around at least some of the archaeological site. State officials say it would likely earn National Historic Landmark status, like the Statue of Liberty and Miami’s Freedom Tower. Some local officials and preservationists believe it might also qualify for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

 

Making the site even more significant, they say, is the fact that Carr’s team has also uncovered artifacts and other elements from two later historic structures sandwiched over the Tequesta village at the site — a well and artifacts from Fort Dallas, a mid-19th Century military fortification used during two of the Seminole Indian wars, and brick column bases and other traces of Flagler’s hotel, which prompted the founding of the city of Miami.

 

“It’s extremely important,’’ said city preservation board member Gerald Marston of the site. “If they gave it a name, it’s the birthplace of Miami.’’

 

Early finds on the site had been previously announced, including a circle Carr discovered in 2005 and dubbed the Royal Palm Circle after the Flagler Hotel. But the rest of the ensemble was discovered only in the past six months.

 

It was not until Miami-Dade’s county archaeologist, Jeff Ransom, got wind of the recent finds in the fall that word began getting out, however. Carr acknowledges he had not notified the county and city of major finds as required, an oversight he said he has corrected.

 

Met Square is the fourth phase of MDM’s massive Met Miami development, which takes up four adjacent city blocks. Two other phases, a condo and a tower housing a Marriot Marquis hotel and offices, have been completed.

 

Carr found the remains of scores of Tequesta people in a burial ground under the third phase, a Whole Foods with a parking garage and residential tower, now under construction. The remains were reburied in an undisclosed location following Florida law.

 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/03/3911049/prehistoric-village-found-in-downtown.html#storylink=cpy