BRADENTON - Deciding that it did not "fit our mission," the South Florida Museum is putting a prehistoric Indian mound up for sale for $200,000.
Archaeologists have long held that the Pillsbury Temple Mound includes the cremation and burial site of more than 100 native Floridians whose culture vanished centuries ago.
"We call it an asset that the museum owns but that does not really fit our mission," said Jeff King, the president of the museum's board of directors. "I have no knowledge of it being a burial mound."
State Archaeologist Ryan Wheeler said the mound was listed in a state database for unmarked burial sites.
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But both state and county officials said the site can be legally developed.
"The statute does allow excavation with human remains," Wheeler said. "You have to pay someone for that work and find a home for the remains. . . . You also have to go through a process to consult with American Indian tribes about the remains."
The "for sale" sign near the mound, tucked away in a quiet well-appointed neighborhood near the Manatee River and east of De Soto National Memorial, further incited neighbors already concerned about a 15-home project proposed for the property surrounding the mound. The project is still being reviewed by county planners and is slated to go before the county commission Feb. 20.
Neither Bill Manfull, the developer who owns the land surrounding the site, nor William Blalock, the Realtor and a member of the museum's board who is in charge of selling the mound, returned phone calls for comment.
Not the first of its kind
As the number of waterfront homes grew around Palma Sola Bay, east of De Soto National Memorial, the slowly eroding mound had been fending for its survival from a lack of proper care.
But it had better luck than six mounds in the Palma Sola area, said Bill Burger, a local archeologist who has researched the Pillsbury mound for several clients.
At least four of them were burial mounds, including the Pillsbury Temple Mound. Four mounds have been destroyed over time because of development and agriculture, Burger said.
"The Pillsbury mound is the last one that is left in the area," Burger said in an interview last year.
In 1983, on his deathbed, Asa Pillsbury signed over the deed to the land containing the mound to the South Florida Museum, Burger said.
The deed requires the owner of the land to maintain its landscape, build a fence and provide at least four parking spaces near the mound, according to records obtained from the Manatee County Planning Department.
The Pillsbury mound does not have a fence around it, but has several palm trees planted on and around it.
"If the museum still owns it, I'd like to find out why after 20 years, why there aren't any fences there?" said George Garcia, a security officer with the American Indian Movement in Florida that works to protect such mounds.
Incensed neighbors, who only this week found out that the mound was for sale, were shocked.
"I can't believe they would do something like that," said Elfi Starrett, who lives near the mound. "It doesn't smell right."
King, of the museum, said he does not know who would buy the property with the mound.
King said the museum's board of directors had been talking about selling the property with the mound for the past two years.
Proceeds from the sale would be used to "further the goals of the museum," which include education programs, he said.
The land was appraised for $147,500, according to the Manatee property appraiser.
Starrett, who actually called to inquire about the sale, was told it was just a shell midden, or an Indian trash heap, and received a $200,000 quote.
"It's pretty cheap," said Garcia, when he heard of the going price. "Is it a greed factor or are they in a financial strap?"
Garcia and Wheeler, the state archaeologist, said they would like to find out more about the mound and contact the museum about it.
Scott Bassett, who also lives near the mound, ponders on the irony of the situation.
"I wonder if Pillsbury would have deeded it to a developer where it would be developed and destroyed," he said. "They (the museum) never did any of the things the deed required. . . . They left it untouched, which is a good thing, but there isn't any protection for it either."