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Rings within Rings:  The Miami Circle Overview

It was a muggy Miami day in September of 1998 when a survey team arrived for a routine investigation at a 2.06 acre parcel of land near the southern bank of the Miami River.

Already, the land held historic significance.  It may have once been part of the Brickell Hammock, a coastal tropical hardwood forest.  It also stood as part of the original property where the pioneering Brickell family established a trading post in South Florida during the 1870s. It had been cleared in the early 19th century and was planted with a coconut palm grove that existed until 1949.  In the 1950s, it held six low-rise apartment buildings that were razed in 1998.   Now, it was preparing for its latest tenants: two high rise apartment buildings that developers were eager to begin building. 

The discovery of several unique carvings in the bedrock beneath the site halted any attempts at construction. 

Scientists decided to investigate this mysterious area further.  In December 1998 the team fully realized the extent of what they had found.  A complete circle, with a diameter of 38 feet, had been carved into the bedrock.  Many believe the find, now dubbed the "Miami Circle", is very significant.  It is one of the most complete prehistoric structural footprints cut into bedrock within the eastern part of North America.

The Miami Circle is characterized by 24 rectangular basins ranging in size from one foot to about three feet in length, varying in width between 18 and 24 inches.  Most are cut to a depth of 12 to 18 inches below the bedrock's surface.  The contents found within the basins include limestone rocks, black midden soil, animal bone, marine shell, and the occasional artifact. 

In addition to these cut basins are more than 500 circular post holds that have been documented within the vicinity of the Miami Circle ( 

Rings Within Rings:
Also discovered were a buried shark and sea turtle, an eye motif cut into the rock, a basaltic ax offering, and other items suggesting that the circle had ceremonial significance.  Radiocarbon dating, testing two charcoal samples selected from the cut basins and the midden within the circle, put the site's origin to circa 100 C.E. 

The "eye" carved into the
bedrock.  It is on the eastern
cardinal point of the circle.
Shark's vertebrae discovered at the site.
The Miami Circle and its artifacts were found in a remarkably well preserved state.  The placement of fill dirt below the Brickell Apartment buildings reduced most of the adverse impact of their construction to the site.  At least 85% of the Miami Circle's features are intact (

Human occupation at the site may date back two thousand years into the circle's past, most likely to an early Florida Native American tribe, the Tequesta.  The tribe lived from 1450 BCE through the mid-1700's and settled primarily in the southern section of Florida.  Well adapted to the Florida climate, they chose locations based upon availability of fresh water, and had a high seafood diet.  Their rivals were the Calusa, another extinct Native American tribe who held strong roots in Florida.  (

An article published in the Miami Herald on July 4, 2001, reveals tests that exposed the bones of at least 12 people who lived 500 BCE (BC) to 500 CE (AD).  Scientists did not remove the bones or artifacts from the site, instead choosing to dig 41 small "test" holes, each at about 50 foot intervals.  However, such a high percentage of finds indicate that up to 50 to 100 bodies were buried in the area.  The Circle may have served as a Tequestea cemetery  (

The Miami Circle is marked with cardinal points for the north, south, east, and west.  Rocks have been placed within the post holes at each of these points.  The eye-like cut basin marks the east.  Some believe that the site had ceremonial importance to the equinox and solstice due to the alignments of these markers, though that has yet to be proven.

Many archeologists believe that the Circle once supported posts for the inner footprint of a Tequesta structure, perhaps a council house or temple.  It is believed that the square basins represent holes used for the placement of wooden posts.  This hypothesis is reinforced by the observation of several basins with rocks inside that appear to have rested against posts, as well as the carefully fashioned circular holes within many of the basins.

Miami Circle surveyor T. L. Riggs, the investigator who first discovered the Miami Circle, argues against the Tequesta theory.  He believes  that the site is actually an "American Stonehenge" and that it dates back to a worldwide ring of standing stone circles. 

Riggs claims that his own independent research has allowed him to find six of the original stones that were used in the Circle's construction.  He believes the Miami Circle is a 1/3 scale replica of Stonehenge itself, also citing its astronomical alignments which, like Stonehenge, mark the solstices and equinoxes.   (

Other sources have called the Miami Circle a remnant of Atlantis, or even a corner of the Bermuda Triangle, while others regularly hold New Age peace vigils at the site.

One bold theory created by Jerald T. Milanich, an archaeologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, asserts the Circle is nothing more than the remains of an old septic tank.  Milanich believes the holes look like part of an overflow drain.  He proposes that the state dig further in the site of the Brickell Apartment buildings to find some of the other known septic tanks, and compare them to the Circle.  Most scientists disagree with the theory.  Thus far, no one has attempted to find the old septic tanks for a comparison.  (

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Rings within Rings:  How does the Miami Circle Compare to Other Mysterious Monuments?

Is the Miami Circle an "American Stonehenge"?  According to  T.L. Riggs, the answer is "yes". 

Early in the site's exploration, Riggs drew a parallel between the mysterious carvings in the Miami bedrock and Stonehenge.  Utilizing geometric principles Riggs measured the arc of the four holes in the trench.  He pinpointed their center as being in an area that archaeological investigators had not, at that time, researched.   Using a tape measurer, he walked around the perimeter of what he imagined lay beneath the un-excavated land. 

Calling on the assistance of the site's two lead researchers, Carr and Ricisak, Riggs worked to prove his theory of an American standing stone circle.  At first, his predictions appeared accurate.  The excavation site revealed layer by layer a circular shape very similar to that of Stonehenge.

Hoping to further prove his point, Riggs devised a model of the Miami Circle, complete with monoliths.  His findings showed that the posts lined up with certain astronomical points within 1/10th of a degree. 

Yet, no other sites in the region showed the Native population creating or utilizing the complex astronomical calculations that would be needed to support Riggs' theory.  It seemed unlikely that a single artifact would be sufficient to reverse all previously known information about the area's tribe.

Also, Riggs was unable to substantiate how he determined the length of the posts.  His selection of which holes to place the posts in appeared to be based on his own conjecture of the location of important astronomical points.

Lastly, Riggs based his information far too early into the Miami Circle investigation.  Three years after its initial find, scientists are still making new discoveries.
Commenting on the Miami controversy, James Randi recalled the embarrassments of the Piltdown Man, likewise deemed an important cultural and historical treasure but which turned out to be a hoax. 

At the time, Randi supported the septic tank theory.  Reports confirm that a 5,000 gallon septic tank was sunk into the center of the circle.  At one point, before the circle was declared a historic site, a proposal was made to dig the septic tank out of the circle. (

As of July of 2001, scientific speculation that the Miami Circle belonged to the Tequesta tribe appears to be accurate.  The discovery of the Native American midden, artifacts, and the graveyard also points to the site as being a ceremonial location, perhaps a temple. 

Septic system or no, the site has withstood the tests of time and the ravages of development to reveal itself, and its artifacts, to curious human eyes once again.

Rings Within Rings:  Online Information

The Miami Circle is well documented with online resources.  Several state, park, archaeological, and historic web pages exist giving detailed information about the site.  Also, many more journal articles appear to be logged on line now than were formerly available to previous students.  However, the best resource still appears to be in newspapers, where media attention is given to the Circle and the controversies it has created. 

However, many web sites have not been properly updated since the discovery of the Miami Circle, or its preservation as a historical site.  Since its initial discovery, and after the strong controversy that surrounded it, some of the public interest seems to have died off. 

I did find that the USF Virtual Library had a few resources, but it was frustrating trying to locate them.  Only a small selection of information was available through the Virtual Library, WebLUIS, and database searches.  After the initial search, the same 7 or so sources continually came up through any subsequent searches.

After three years of research, scientists are finding substantial evidence of the Circle's purpose.  I suspect that more journal articles, both in magazine format and online, will be available as documentation reveals new information to the public.  Until then, the average web surfer and student alike should understand that the information available on line is worthwhile, but may not be the most up to date information available.  Check with a variety of sources before drawing conclusions.

Rings Within Rings:  Miami Circle
Nature & Archaeology in Miami-Dade Parks.  Information provided by the Miami-Dade Parks Communications Office, last updated Sept. 20, 1999. (Last visited 7/14/01).
A very comprehensive site detailing the discovery of the circle and why it is a significant find.  It also gives physical details about the circle, and brief biographies of the main researches on the project.
The Miami River Circle Archaeological Site (Last visited 7/13/01).
This site gives very good photographs depicting site discoveries.  It also gives a quick and dirty description of the Miami Circle's "who", "what", "when", "where", and "why".  However, this page is not affiliated in any way with the City of Miami or Dade-County.  This is where I got many of my site photographs.  All photos by Jack Lamont. Aerial photo of circle by John Ricisak
Saving the Miami Circle (Last visited 7/15/01).
A library for all articles dealing with the Miami Circle.  Dated articles begin at 02/03/99.  This also contains a nice links page to other prominent Miami Circle sites.
Miami Circle Cam by Richard C. Hoagland (Last visited 7/15/01).
This site offers a unique perspective on the Miami Circle: A live web cam image uploaded live from an office building overlooking the Miami Circle site.  This image is continuously updated every 2 minutes.  It also includes numbers to call should intruders be spotted on the site.
The Miami Circle by Randy Nimnicht (Last visited 7/15/01).
Currently, this site has interviews from one of the Miami Circle's prominent researchers: Bob Carr.  This gives unique insight to the site's discoveries as well as the research process.  It is also promoting the preservation of the Miami Circle.
Solstice Celebration Unveils New Data on Miami Circle as Hardy Few Brave Florida Thunderstorms to Demonstrate Support.  (Last visited 7/15/01)
This site offers some different perspectives on the Miami Circle.  It is strongly in support of saving the circle, though it tends to discuss less scientifically oriented reasons for the Circle's construction, particularly that of an "American Stonehenge".  It also contains a nice compilation of statements from different sources about the Miami Circle's authenticity.
From the archives of the National Review: Stonehenge or Septic Tank? An American dilemma.(Miami Circle) by John. J. Miller.  Published Oct. 11, 1999 (Last visited 7/15/01).  This article contains information about the Miami Circle, and how the Miami-Dade government has reacted to its find.  Contains some dry humor and the interesting theory that the Miami Circle is only an old septic tank left over from previous construction.
Miami Circle, copyright  (Visited 7/15/01). 
Miami Circle at Website City (Miami Circle at Website City (MIAMI, FL)--This website contains photos, articles and other info regarding the archaeological discovery of the Miami Circle.  It has a very comprehensive links section and the information is well organized.
Inside the Miami Circle edited by D. Trull. Posted May 19, 1999.  (Last visited 7/15/01).
This site's home page is most interesting.  It deals in depth with paranormal information, yet it does not readily (and blindly) accept all theories.  The article on the Miami Circle has substantial quotes from world-renowned skeptic James Randi who draws a reference between the Miami Circle and the Piltdown Man hoax.  It also deals with the governmental issues and the politics behind the Miami Circle.
Biscayne National Park: The Miami Circle edited by Gary Bremen. Last Updated:  September 28, 1999 (Last visited 7/15/01).
This is an interesting site on the Miami Circle from the perspective of Biscayne National Park, where the Circle is located.  It contains maps, an online bookstore, and links to three other major sources of on-line information.

Rings Within Rings:  Miami Circle

____________. 1999.  SECTIONS - MIRROR ON THE US - Dancing Around the Miami River Circle. The Economist (46) 6:  34-36.

Bell, Maya. 1999. "Archaeologists Confirm Miami Circle About 2,000 Years Old."  Sun-Sentinel November.

Cass, D. 1999. "Vicious Circle: An archaeological excavation in Miami has pitted city against county."
Metropolis (19)3: 108.

Levinson, Pamela G. 2000. "Will the circle be unbroken? The Miami Circle discovery and its significance for urban evolution and protection of indigenous culture." St. Thomas Law Review 13 (Fall): 283-340.

Mertzer, Martin and Sara Olkon.  2001.  "Ancient Cemetery Found at Brickell Park Site May Hold 100 Tequesta Graves".  Miami Herald.  1A.

Miller, John J. 1999. "Stonehenge or Septic tank?". National Review 51 (19): 31-2

Milanich, Jerald T.  1999.  "Much Ado About a Circle." Archaeology 52(2): 22-25.

Rabin, Charles. 2000."Parkland May Include Burial Site." Miami Herald. 17A.

Riggs, T. L. 2000. "The Discovery and Investigation of 'the Miami Circle." St. Thomas Law Review 13 (Fall): 229-38.

United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. 1999. " Miami Circle Biscayne National Park : report (to accompany S. 762)". United States. Congress. Senate. Report ; 106-91.

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