Archaeologists dig into Miami history at Baccarat tower site

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Written by Samantha Sheradsky on May 24, 2022

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The very first beneficiary of the new Baccarat building at 444 Brickell Ave. is likely to be not tenants of a 75-story luxury residential tower but a museum, as archaeological work at the site uncovers shards of pottery and bones of millennia-old early residents of Miami.

The 4-acre property, bought in 2013 by the Related Group, Florida’s largest developers, and SH Hotels & Resorts for $104 million, is to have three towers that will hold 1,400 residential units with an office, hotel, and a retail space.

But first, archaeologist Robert S. Carr works carefully below ground for the developers to document what came long before – human remains of a 2,000 years-old Native American tribe.

In April 2021, he sent the city a “notice of discovery” and began studying the site. His team’s digging found human remains and post holes that came from the Tequesta tribe.

This discovery of the remains was reported to the City of Miami historic preservation staff on April 10. It is required that archaeologists now determine the significance of importance before developers break ground.

Reportedly, the site contains the remnants of bone artifacts, pumice stones, lithic weight, and pottery shards.

But that public notice didn’t come from Mr. Carr, who is still at work at the site but has an agreement with developers not to discuss it publicly.

“After the completion of the project, we’ll be able to talk about it, but all I can really tell you is that the work there is ongoing,” Mr. Carr said.

The project that will follow his digging is structured to have 324 tower residences starting from the 15th level, eight penthouses, and 28 riverfront flats and duplexes. This structure will have visible, panoramic views of Biscayne Bay, the Miami River, and the Miami Skyline. A 10,000-square-foot waterfront restaurant is to be built inside the building.

But first, as a professional archaeologist, Mr. Carr is committed to protecting the origins of this and any archaeological site to make sure that the findings are documented before development begins.

The artifacts that were discovered belong to the property’s owners. Mr. Carr makes an agreement with a property’s owner that the artifacts he uncovers will be carefully transferred to a designated museum.

“A lot of those archaeological materials are a result of the excavations that we’ve been doing throughout the county,” Mr. Carr said.

“If the site is potentially of interest, we do sufficient testing to gather information based on the artifacts and non-artifacts that they call eco facts,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that a summer 2021 report from archaeologists working on the riverfront project states that the site is qualified to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The report says “The site provides important data documenting prehistoric culture, subsistence, and settlement patterns in South Florida. It is recommended that intact portions of the site be avoided if feasible.”

A statement from the Related Group says it has “a long history of collaborating with local officials to carefully excavate sites and preserve archaeological finds according to current laws and practices. This is not unusual for construction projects in this area and has not delayed our development plans.”

When the digging of the prehistoric site is fully complete, the Historic and Environmental

Preservation Board will decide if the findings meet Miami’s codes and the U.S. Interior Department’s standards.

This is by no means Mr. Carr’s first look at the Tequesta culture that flourished at the mouth of the Miami River.

In 1998, Miami Today first reported that archaeologists including Mr. Carr had discovered a 38-foot-circumference circle across Brickell Avenue from the Baccarat project. Some months later this structure became known as the Miami Circle and the site was purchased by the State of Florida in 1999 for more than $26 million to preserve it. This 2.5 acres was turned into a National Historic Landmark in 2002. The circle was later buried to protect it from probable wind and water damage.

John Ricisak, who had worked as a field archaeologist and studied anthropology and archaeology, traveled to Miami in 1991 to further his education and work as the county archaeologist. He met Mr. Carr and worked with him for many years.

“[Mr. Carr] was preparing to retire and he asked me if I’d be interested in in the county archaeologist position since I had some experience in it,” Mr. Ricisak said.

Mr. Ricisak was the county archaeologist for two and a half years while the Miami Circle was being studied and oversaw the excavations there as the community rallied around the site and its preservation.

“The site was actually saved from development and to this day, it remains undeveloped and it’s a public space,” Mr. Ricisak said.

Adalis Carbo, a Miami real-estate broker, recently learned about the findings at the Baccarat site during the dig.

Miss Carbo said she believes luxury Baccarat building will be different from the other buildings in Brickell.

“I love that building,” she said, “and I’ve tried to push that building for some of my clients because of how many amenities it has.”

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