Native American activists in Miami are calling for an archaeological dig on a site due to be developed into a series of residential towers to be halted out of respect for the human remains that have been discovered there.
A number of artifacts dating back 7,000 years—around the time that what would later become the Old Testament Bible was being assembled, according to historical estimates—were found on a parcel of land in the city off Brickell Avenue, near the mouth of the Miami River.
However, members of the American Indian Movement of Florida have said they would rather the site be preserved rather than turned into condos.
Will Pestle, a professor of bioarchaeology at the University of Miami, told news outlet WPLG on Monday that the site was “older than the pyramids. It is older than the colosseum in Rome. This is a site that has great antiquity.”
He suggested that the remains show that humans have lived in the area far longer than previously thought, providing “an important story about the history and origins of the city that we 1677143660 call Miami.”
Archaeologists have been aware of historically significant artifacts on the site for several years. A 2021 report by the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy Inc. listed tools and ornaments made from shells, bone and stone, animal bones and teeth, as well as a human tooth, fragments of a pelvis and part of a long bone.
It found that among the parts of the undeveloped patch surveyed, there were artifacts that were suggestive of contact with Europeans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The 2021 report, submitted to the City of Miami, said the site was “potentially eligible” for being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a register of locations preserved by the National Park Service, on the basis that “it contains well preserved cultural deposits that could contribute to our knowledge of prehistoric subsistence and settlement patterns of the Tequesta.”
The Tequesta were a Native American tribe that occupied the region of Florida now containing Miami until the middle of the eighteenth century. The Brickell Avenue bridge, near the site, bears a bronze statue of a Tequesta warrior in homage to the ancient occupants.
The City of Miami has indicated that it is happy with the artifacts being preserved off-site so the new development can go up.
Betty Osceola, an activist and member of the Miccosukee Tribe, which migrated to Florida before it became a part of the United States, said the area should be preserved in the same way the Miami Circle—a prehistoric Tequesta site located nearby—had been.
“I was a little bit angered and felt like our ancestors were being disrespected,” she told WPLG.
Robert Rosa of the American Indian Movement of Florida described the dig as a “big desecration,” adding: “If you can’t respect us, expect us.”
“The artifacts discovered thus far have been recovered in accordance to the archaeological management plan approved by the governing authorities and are not mandated to remain in place,” Related Group, the developer, said in a statement to local media.
“The archaeologists managing the process are in agreement that the artifacts will have the most social and historical value if housed in a museum or in an educational setting.”
It added that although 6,000 to 7,000-year-old objects had been found at the site, “this indicates that they may have been trade items curated by the Tequesta, but do not represent the age of the site.”
Newsweek reached out to the American Indian Movement of Florida and the City of Miami for comment.