Special Reports

Burial mound plans sounds alarm

BRADENTON - Who wants to buy a native Indian mound for $200,000?

The South Florida Museum, which has placed the mound on sale, didn't have any interested parties yet Friday, officials said.

But the fact that the 1-acre site is for sale has generated a great deal of interest from the American Indian Movement in Florida and a state archaeological group.

They're extremely alarmed that the Pillsbury Temple Mound will be neglected - or desecrated.

Already, at least one developer has inquired whether any structure can be built on the land. He has proposed a housing development surrounding the mound.

The mound, near DeSoto National Memorial, is one of the last few remaining in the area.

"They're put there for a reason, and they need to stay there," said George Garcia, of the American Indian Movement. "We only ask of them to be protected."

Archaeologists echoed his sentiments.

"We advocate for resources that may be in danger like this particular site," said Richard Estabrook, director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network. "We certainly will be willing to work with the owner of the property to preserve it."

One concerned neighbor, Scott Bassett, also is exploring how to save the mound, perhaps through state emergency funds and grants dedicated to preservation.

And at least one county official says he is against the sale.

"The property came to the museum by donation; it should leave the museum by donation," said Charlie Hunsicker, director of the county's conservation lands management department.

Jeff King, the president of the museum's board of directors, said earlier this week the museum wants to sell the property because it does not fit the museum's mission.

The museum, which shows artifacts from similar mounds across Florida, can't really exhibit the Pillsbury Temple Mound, King said Friday. Over the years, the site has been excavated and looted.

"The mound had really been decimated, from what I can tell," he said. "There's not a lot to see there."

Old burial site

Some of the first Indians to live in this area, between 900 A.D. and 1400 A.D., used mounds like the Pillsbury Temple Mound to bury their important people, according to a study prepared by local archaeologist Bill Burger.

Human remains were stored in a temple structure built on top of the mound. Periodically, the structure would be set on fire. More fill would be brought in to cap it off.

The Pillsbury Temple Mound was first recorded in 1929 during a survey by the Smithsonian Institution, Burger wrote in the study. About 25 years later, another archaeologist, William Plowden, heard of Asa Pillsbury's mound from a local relic collector.

The collector told Plowden of the sunken half-mile road on Pillsbury's mango grove leading to the mound, a treasure hunter's haven. Plowden reported the tale to the University of Florida.

It was only in 1963 that a Florida State Museum archaeologist actually dug into the site. During Ripley P. Bullen's excavation, he discovered a ramp east of the mound, leading to another smaller mound. Bullen reported that at least 147 bodies were buried in that mound.

Many of the artifacts such as pottery have been taken from the Pillsbury Temple Mound and are now on display in the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

The mounds are on the state's list of unmarked burial sites.

But as long as the developer, with the help of local American Indians, excavates and removes the remains appropriately, the property can legally be developed.

'Community asset'

Garcia, with the American Indian Movement in Florida, wants to know why there aren't any fences around the mound.

In the property's deed, Pillsbury, who gave the land to the museum, did not specify that the museum had to put a fence up. The museum added restrictions to the deed, including fencing and landscaping. But they are only triggered by development, King said.

Three mansions have been built directly north of the mound, King said, so he doesn't know why there isn't a fence around it.

"It's not our job to put it up, but someone's responsibility to put it up," he said.

That question remains as developer Bill Manfull seeks a permit to build a 15-home project in the area surrounding the mound.

The project, which is being reviewed by the county planning department, goes before the county commission for review Feb. 20.

A former agent who worked for Manfull on the project filed a request with the county last November, asking if it was possible to build on the site with the mounds.

"It was to protect his interest," said Bob Schmitt, president of Land Planning Associates Inc. "He didn't want someone to buy the mound. . . . He indicated to me he wanted a letter on file, so he could show the letter to someone."

Schmitt stressed that they had no plans to build on the mound.

Manfull declined comment.

Money from a sale of the mound would go back into the museum's capital funds, King said. The funds are typically used to obtain another showpiece for the museum.

"The museum is important to me," he said. "We certainly want to do what is right for the community, because it's a community asset." , president, South Florida Museum board of directors

Mound history

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