By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Developers building a complex that would include a high-rise hotel were told by Miami officials on Friday to redesign the plan in order to preserve remnants of what is thought to be a 2,000-year-old Native American village in downtown Miami.
The site has been described by experts as the birth place of Miami and one of most significant Native American finds in Florida.
Archaeologists discovered the Tequesta Indian site in 2005 when developers began excavating what had long been a parking lot. Since then, eight circles of holes in the limestone bedrock have been uncovered where supports for huts may once have stood.
Miami-based MDM Development Group offered to cut at least one of the circles from the rock and display it in a public plaza under the building once it was completed. The city's Historic and Environmental Preservation Board rejected that plan by seven votes to one.
The board also unanimously told MDM to "fully explore the possibility of preservation of all of the significant archaeological features and their interpretations."
Eugene Stearns, an attorney representing MDM, called preservation "impossible" and disputed the find saying the vast number of post holes could have been made by later societies.
He said the find had been "interpreted in a sensational way."
"What exists there today is a moonscape that no Indian or plantation owner could identify," Stearns said.
MDM's plans for the site included a movie theater, restaurants and a 34-story hotel covering an entire city block, including the archaeological site. The tower is part of the four-phase Met Miami project, which includes an already completed JW Marriott Marquis hotel, an office building and a 447-unit condo tower overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Preservationists who spoke at the hearing argued that the site merited being saved in its entirety.
"We've been told that a restaurant lease matters more than our layers of history," said Arva Moore Parks, a noted local historian.
Robert Carr, the archaeologist hired by MDM to survey the site, has described the find as what "might be one of the earliest town plans in eastern North America."
On Friday he told the hearing, "I think from an archaeological perspective the fact that so much of the site has been uncovered ... negates or at least undermines the original plan that was developed for preserving one circle."
Archaeologists also found the foundation of the Royal Palm Hotel at the site, built in 1897 by industrialist Henry Flagler, who is widely credited with establishing Miami. Badly damaged in the hurricane of 1926, the Royal Palm was demolished in 1930.
A similar circle of holes drilled into the rock, called the Miami Circle, was uncovered nearby in 1998 and is thought to have once been a ceremonial Tequesta meeting place. That discovery led to a developer being forced to sell the land back to the city. The site is now a city park, though the circle was covered under a layer of concrete. (Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by David Adams)