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Digging Miami

Robert S Carr

Publication Year: 2012

The pace of change of Miami since its incorporation in 1896 is staggering. The seaside land that once was home to several thousand Tequesta is now congested with roads and millions of people while skyscrapers and artificial lights dominate the landscape.

Ironically, Miami's development both continually erases monuments and traces of indigenous people and historic pioneers yet also leads to the discovery of archaeological treasures that have lain undiscovered for centuries. In Digging Miami, Robert Carr traces the rich 11,000-year human heritage of the Miami area from the time of its first inhabitants through the arrival of European settlers and up to the early twentieth century.

Carr was Dade County's first archaeologist, later historic preservation director, and held the position at a time when redevelopment efforts unearthed dozens of impressive archaeological sites, including the Cutler Site, discovered in 1985, and the controversial Miami Circle, found in 1998. Digging Miami presents a unique anatomy of this fascinating city, dispelling the myth that its history is merely a century old.

This comprehensive synthesis of South Florida's archaeological record will astonish readers with the depth of information available throughout an area barely above sea level. Likewise, many will be surprised to learn that modern builders, before beginning construction, must first look for signs of ancient peoples' lives, and this search has led to the discovery of over one hundred sites within the county in recent years. In the end, we are left with the realization that Miami is more than the dream of entrepreneurs to create a tourist mecca built on top of dredged rock and sand; it is a fascinating, vibrant spot that has drawn humans to its shores for unimaginable years.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Front matter

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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Preface: More than Just Seashells

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pp. xi-xiv

If urban archaeology in Miami has accomplished anything during the past thirty years, it is that it has forged a sense of community from the flotsam of artifacts and sites representing ten thousand years of human endeavor. To reach back and touch the source of who we are and to know that Miami is more than the dream of entrepreneurs to create a tourist mecca and a city built on top of dredged rock and sand is to move closer to the truth. ...

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1. Diggers, Scientists, and Antiquarians: History of Archaeological Research

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pp. 1-24

South Florida is a region generally unfamiliar to American archaeologists. Until the 1980s, relatively few archaeologists conducted research in the area, in part because of several geographic and educational forces. First, the remoteness of the area contributed greatly to the lack of investigations. Before Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railroad arrived in the newly formed city of Miami in 1896, ...

Part I. Prehistoric Miami

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2. The First People: The Cutler Fossil Site

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pp. 27-45

If there is such a thing as a hole within the thin carpet of civilization that plunges to the darkest recesses of Florida’s prehistory, then the solution hole at Charles Deering Estate Park at Cutler is such a place (fig. 2.1). Across southern Miami-Dade County, the ancient Miami oolitic limestone rises to 19 feet above sea level. ...

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3. The South Florida Archaic

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pp. 46-61

Although the 11,000-year-old Cutler site set the stage for the earliest known human occupation of South Florida, sites from the early Archaic period (c. 6500–5000 B.C.) are conspicuously absent. There is an inexplicable 4,000- year gap in the archaeological record, and it is not known whether this hiatus represents a low human population and/or the destruction of these scarce sites by modern development. ...

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4. The Perfect Balance: Adapting to the Land and Sea

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pp. 62-91

Three thousand years before the birth of Christ, South Florida’s Native Americans inhabited a land dotted with thousands of ponds, sloughs, and coastal isles. It was a watery land not unlike the marshy tributaries of northeastern Florida, an area that archaeological evidence suggests may have been the point of origin for southeastern Florida’s Tequesta. ...

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5. Sacred Geography: The Prehistoric Settlement System

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pp. 92-118

In the world of Tequesta geography, the land, sea, and Everglades were inextricably linked. Each location used for settlement favored water access for transportation and fishing and had sufficiently high ground to stay dry. Mangrove estuaries became prime locations for fishing, and no doubt families and clans claimed and regulated fishing rights on the most productive locales. ...

Part II. Failed Settlements: The European Legacy

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6. European Contact: The Transition to Extinction

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pp. 121-142

The arrival of Columbus in the New World was perceived by the peaceful Lucayan Indians of the Bahamas as a celestial event. The Lucayans believed that Columbus and his crew were gods and that they and their three ships had sailed from the heavens. The Indians of Mexico gave similar reverence to Cortes and his mounted army when the Spanish arrived at Veracruz in 1519, ...

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7. The English and Bahamian Legacy

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pp. 143-154

Twenty years of English rule over Florida, from 1763 to 1783, did not result in the ruins of a single fort, monument, or town in southern Florida. Eng- lish colonial efforts focused mostly on northern Florida, while South Flor- ida remained a wilderness. English rule, however, resulted in some of the most superb maps ever produced of the area. ...

Part III. Seminole Legacy

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8. Seminole Archaeology

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pp. 157-179

There is debate among scholars as to the origin of the word “Seminole.” Some say it is a corruption of the Creek words ishti semoli, meaning “separatist,” according to Seminole Tribe historian Willard Steele, referring generally to people who have left their town, are living by themselves, or are runaways. ...

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9. Stockades and Musket Balls

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pp. 180-198

The preservation of the Fort Dallas stone barracks in Lummus Park provides a good example of the public’s desire to hold on to some vestige or monument of the dramatic conflict that engulfed South Florida during the Second and Third Seminole Wars. The Fort Dallas barracks building was situated on Julia Tuttle’s property on the north bank of the Miami River, ...

Part IV. Pioneer Miami

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10. The Archaeology of Arrowroot: Miami’s First Industry

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pp. 201-214

After the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1819, new settlers brought a new attitude toward the land and new economic strategies to survive in the South Florida frontier. Unlike earlier English settlers, who were maritime oriented, subsisting on an “island economy” that included catching sea turtles and wrecking, some American entrepreneurs began to shift their vision toward gaining wealth from intensive agriculture. ...

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11. Tropical Homesteads: Artifacts of Miami’s Pioneers

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pp. 215-230

There is a popular misconception that historic archaeologists are laboring to reach back to those hallmarks that define the beginning of the American experience, such as the settlement of St. Augustine or Jamestown. But archaeology is the study of material culture, and although many investigations focus on the distant past, some archaeological discoveries yield surprising ...

Part V. Urban Archaeology: A Past with a Future

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12. The Miami Circle and Beyond

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pp. 233-248

In May 1998, urban archaeology and the community were put to the test when an important archaeological discovery collided with the Miami’s historic preservation ordinance and private property rights. I was driving over the Brickell Bridge and saw a wrecking crane demolishing the vacant Brickell Apartments located on the south bank of the Miami River. ...

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pp. 249-250

In modern life, the pace of change since the incorporation of the city of Miami has been staggering. The land and sea that had breathed easily from the light touch of several thousand Tequesta is now congested with roads and a million people. There is a constant buzz of human activity, and the sightings of panthers in Miami are now only a matter of historical record. ...


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pp. 251-254


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pp. 255-264

References Cited

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pp. 265-284


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pp. 285-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780813042558
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813042060
Print-ISBN-10: 0813042062

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 80 b&w photos, 8 maps, 1 tables
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indians of North America -- Florida -- Miami -- Antiquities.
  • Seminole Indians -- Antiquities.
  • Excavations (Archaeology) -- Florida -- Miami.
  • Miami (Fla.) -- Antiquities.
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