Miami Circle | City Hall | Musuems/Galleries | Slack Family Farm | Kennewick Man

The Miami Circle: Miami, Florida

While the city of Miami, Florida has been at the forefront of urbanization, the site known as the Miami Circle had remained unharmed. In the midst of highrise construction, and consequent destruction, the site, which lies at the mouth of the Miami River, was never discovered--until a routine development project uncovered the site in summer of 1998.
The Miami Circle is a prime example of the development versus preservation debate that is characteristic of sites in urban areas. On the left, is a contemporary map of downtown Miami with the approximate boundary of the Tequesta Village, whose inhabitants may have used the structure for ceremonial purposes. A long-term study of the Circle would surely add to the history of pre-urban Miami and to the history of the life of the first inhabitants of Miami. But, there is still the issue of halting development. The picture above is a testament to the problem cities are confronted with when an archaeological site hinders plans to further develop a city. What should happen to a site when city development is the main source of revenue--in this case, revenue that would potentially keep the city of Miami from going bankrupt-- yet an equally important structure lies underneath? Civic as well as Federal archaeological laws are the key to solving these controversies...

The circle itself is 38 feet in diameter and has some striking features. First, there appears to be an intentional marking of the cardinal directions. A set of holes defines an east-west line with a carving of a human-like eye at the circle's east line. Other directions are marked with unusual cuts or rocks placed in holes. A five-foot long shark and two stone axes, all suggesting ceremonial offerings, were uncovered along the circle's eastern arc. Radiocarbon test results from early March 1999 confirm that the Circle is at least 2,000 years old.
The Miami Circle's ownership has been under contest almost since its discovery. Part of the problem is for the developer of the land, who stands to lose millions in profit if the high rise is not built, as does the city of Miami-- money that would have gone to the school system and other county funds. But, the site is an important part of Miami's history, and civic hearings, no doubt taking into consideration NAGPRA and ARPA, have ruled in the site's favor, giving it the opportunity to not be harmed, at least for the time it takes to understand the meaning of the site.
On June 28, 1999, a Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge ruled that Miami-Dade County has the right to take the Miami Circle property form developer Michael Baumann. This ruling cleared the way for the transformation of the ancient Tequesta site into an archaeological preserve. In November, county leaders authorized seizure of the land from the developer. The commission voted 10-1 to take the land and indefinitely halt any high-rise construction on the site. In order to do this, the country essentially had to purchase the land from the developer, for a price of $26.7 million. The price was another piece of the problem, as the county did not have enough funds to buy the land, whose price was determined by a jury several months before.
Luckily, the setbacks were not detrimental. On December 1, 1999 a banner on the (now defunct) site read "We Won!". Miami-Dade County accepted a loan from the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land of $8.7 million that allowed the county to purchase the Miami Circle from the developer. The 8.5% interest rate "makes the county's commissioners sweat", but the loan was too good of an opportunity to pass up. As of June 2000, after a year of inactivity caused by an injunction barring any activity at the site, archaeologists, under the lead of John Ricisak, started to slowly uncover the Circle, but a final conclusion about the use of the Circle is years away.

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City Hall: New York, New York

During renovation of New York's City Hall Park in 1999, colonial burials were found just northeast of City Hall (1) and in the northwest corner of the park (2). The burials on the eastern side of the park might be of residents of an almshouse, built in 1736 on the site now occupied by City Hall, or of Revolutionary War soldiers, inmates from a nearby prison, or, even outliers from the African Burial Ground. Construction of a new office building in 1991 (3) led to the discovery and excavation of 427 burials from the eighteenth-century African Burial Ground, which was just beyond the palisade that protected the city on the north. The palisade cut across what is now the park's northwest corner, suggesting the burials found there might be from the African Burial Ground.
-caption from
The site was handled in a proper legal way; the artifacts were reported to city archaeologists and the Landmark Preservation Commission in conjunction with ARPA. The site, however, is important in its ethical implications. But, in 1991, when some of the graves in the park were first uncovered, there was an outcry by many members of the city's community. The African American community felt that the issue was handled irresponsibly and insensitively, and was outraged by the city's failure to offer them any control over their heritage. The controversy surrounding that find continues today, after more than eight years and further discoveries of bones in the area. This outcry by citizens is what the Code of Ethics of archaeologists seeks to handle. Code of Ethics Principle Number 2, Accountability says that: "Responsible archaeological research, including all levels of professional activity, requires an acknowledgment of public accountability and a commitment to make every reasonable effort, in good faith, to consult actively with affected group(s), with the goal of establishing a working relationship that can be beneficial to all parties involved". This principle, as well as number 4, which orders that "Archaeologists should reach out to, and participate in cooperative efforts with others interested in the archaeological record with the aim of improving the preservation, protection, and interpretation of the record", places the work of archaeologist's into the realm public service, not only as a privatized 'research group', which is sometimes alienating to the ancestors of the people they study. City Hall is a clear example of the archaeologist's responsibility to human, and all artifacts, living or deceased, even after the formal legal action has taken place.

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Museums and Galleries: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Sotheby's

Museums have long been regarded as the guardians of a civilizations' prized artifacts as well as a place to learn about ancient cultures. "For most of the early history of archaeology, archaeologists, museums, and collectors worked closely together, seeing themselves as partners in preserving the past. In recent decades, however, as collecting has become increasingly commercial and archaeology increasingly scientific, the partnership has, in many cases, been replaced by antagonisms and direct conflict"(29)1. Many museums today are dealing with the issue of looted artifacts, and the issue of whether or not it is ethical to keep these pieces in museum collections knowing the status of their history. Also, the issue of to whom the artifact actually belongs has caused many people to question whether museums are the rightful home for many of these clues to our past.

One example is a scandal involving the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA). The Republic of Guatemala has demanded that MFA return a number of Maya antiquities, claiming they were looted from archaeological sites within its borders. The richly painted ceramics were given to the museum in 1988 by businessman Landon T. Clay and went on display in a new gallery. One day before the gallery opened, an article in the Boston Globe raised questions about the artifacts. Guatemala asked for their return, and the U.S. Customs Service began an investigation into how they entered the country. Guatemalan officials have promised they will take the MFA to court if their request is not met.
The MFA has refused to comment, except to say that it reviewed the pieces before accepting them, and concluded that they had been acquired legally. Nonetheless, at the time the museum ignored the recommendation of Mayanist Clemency Chase Coggins, who urged it to decline the offer. It also refused a Guatemalan request for the artifacts' return, even though MFA attorney Weld S. Henshaw, who conducted the review, knew of a Guatemalan law banning the exportation of antiquities without a permit, and no permits had been issued for the items in Clay's collection.
1. Vitelli, Karen D. Ed. Archaeological Ethics. Walnut Creek : AltaMira Press. 1996.

A Maya stela
Another case in which the artifacts were returned involved Sotheby's. Precolumbian gold and turquoise jewelry once for sale at Sotheby's was returned to Peru by US. Customs Service agents. According to Cultural Counselor Teresa Quesada, the Peruvian embassy in Washington learned of the items, believed to have been looted from the protected archaeological region of Sipan in northern Peru, through Sotheby's November 1994 auction catalog. Advised by Sipan excavator Walter Alva that the artifacts had come from the site, Peru requested that Sotheby's withdraw them from the sale. When Sotheby's declined to do so, says Quesada, Peru contacted U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno; Maria Papageorge Kouroupas, executive director of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the United States Information Agency; and U.S. Customs in New York, asking them to take the necessary steps to recover the items.
Under the Cultural Property Implementation Act, effective May 7, 1990, artifacts from the Sipan region of northern Peru are prohibited entry into the United States unless accompanied by an export permit issued by Peru. A seizure warrant for the objects was served at Sotheby's on December 14, 1994, at which time they were taken to the New York Customs House. Valued by Sotheby's at between $4,000 and $7,000 each, the objects are a Late Chavmn hollow gold bead in the form of a head, a Late Chavmn necklace of gold and turquoise beads with triangular gold pendants, and an Early Mochica necklace composed of three strands of turquoise and gold beads with pendants bearing bird heads and wings. Experts consulted by U.S. Customs confirmed that the artifacts were pre-Inka and appeared to be from the extensive looting and illicit trafficking activities that have taken place at Sipan.
How the jewelry got into the United States continues to be investigated, according to Senior Special Agent Bonnie Goldblatt of the U.S. Customs Service. She notes that such archaeological objects are typically smuggled into the United States without being declared or are accompanied by false documentation that does not identify the Peruvian government as the owner. In addition to their cultural importance, the artifacts are believed to be the first Sipan material ever seized and repatriated under the cultural property act.

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Slack Family Farm: Uniontown, Kentucky

Holes made by excavation at the farm
Destruction on the farm made by the excavations
There are many examples of archaeology's "evil twin", grave robbing. These sites are of note in order to understand the vast difference between legal archaeology and illegal looting. In the late 1980's near Uniontown, Kentucky, a farm owned by the Slack family was looted. The farm had been in the family for centuries, but when the last member of the family passed away, the farm changed owners. The new owners originally kept to the wishes of the Slack family in keeping gravediggers away from the farm, but when a group of pothunters offered the owners $10,000 they relented. The desires of the Slack's were soon crushed under the massive tires of tractors, along with the bones and artifacts of a long gone culture. It took several months before the townspeople complained to the authorities about the digging and the noise. By the time the looters were arrested, the damage had already been done. The once well preserved site of Slack farm with its countless precious remains of a distant people, a site that could have helped researchers find answers to the prehistoric Indian cultures was now left ruined. All that was left were scattered crushed bones and broken artifacts, lying alongside empty beer and soda cans and cigarette butts. The entire site was a vast stretch of gaping holes and ravished graves. Evidence of settlements and trade routes that could have been infinitely valuable to the cultural history of the area was demolished for the value of artifacts on the black market.

The one positive result of the tragedy of Slack farm was the establishment of NAGPRA. The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 "was created to protect cemeteries on federal and tribal lands, and to provide a way to return the human skeletal material and associated funerary objects in the nation's scientific and museum collections to culturally affiliated tribes" (Fagan). Under NAGPRA, the kind of grave pillaging that occurred at the Slack Farm became illegal and is now a highly punishable offense. Along with NAGPRA, the ARPA, Archaeological Resource Protection Act, is the other main act of legislation against grave robbing. One of the most famous cases of punishment under the ARPA is the case in 1995 of the State of Utah vs. Shumway. Earl Shumway is a grave digger who has been convicted and sentenced several times for robbing gravesites and dealing with stolen artifacts. In 1995 he was convicted of violating ARPA on two counts when he looted Dop-Ki cave in Canyonlands National Park, an Anasazi site, and Horse Rock Ruin in Manti LaSal National Forest. At Canyonlands National Park he hired a helicopter from which he looted caves along the canyon walls, wherein he stole artifacts and removed intact human remains. Shumway was given the largest sentence to date for violating the ARPA regulations-- 78 months in prison and a fine of $5,510.

Bones collected from the site
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Kennewick Man: Kennewick, Washington

One of the more controversial cases of archaeological finds comes from Kennewick, Washington where the remains of a man presumed to have lived 9,200 years ago were found along the Columbia River in June 1996. Known as the 'Kennewick Man', the remains of a Native American man have become the source of a very heated debate and legal dispute between the Native American community and the scientific community. Native Americans want to rebury the remains and the archaeologists and scientists want to study the remains. The Yakama Nation represent the Native American community that is arguing to rebury the Kennewick Man and the opposing side consists of several archaeologists and scientists who want to study the remains. Many people who criticize archaeology liken it to grave robbing in that both uproot ancient graves and probe into the lives of people who, some say, should remain peacefully buried in the ground. In the case of the Kennewick Man there is a large faction who feels that the remains should be left alone, that the Native Americans should be allowed to rebury the Kennewick Man. Yet at the same time his remains could offer the scientific community a great wealth of information about settlement on the North American continent, the scientists do not want to let that information die once again.

Aerial view of river bank where
the Kennewick man was found
The argument centers on the question of whether or not the remains of this man have rights or if his remains are an artifact, an excavation that has untold mysteries. The archaeologists say that the remains do not belong to a specific tribe and cannot be claimed as an ancestor-therefore, they have the right to study the remains. The most recent problem facing the courts was raised on October 26, 2000, when the discussion came up about "who is a Native American?" The courts are trying to discern if the Kennewick Man can be considered a Native American and an ancestor to modern day Native Americans. The Yakama argue that according to the U.S. federal government "anyone who was in present-day United States before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 is legally Native American." According to this definition the Kennewick Man, having lived considerably long before 1492, would be a Native American and the remains would go to the Yakama. Oral arguments in this round of the lawsuit are slated for June 19, 2001, though it's widely believed the case will be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and perhaps to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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