Special Reports

Museum takes burial mound off block

BRADENTON - The South Florida Museum has pulled an American Indian mound it owns and wanted to sell for $200,000 off the market for 60 days, so anyone interested in buying and preserving the mound can make a pitch.

Meanwhile, the Bradenton Herald obtained a draft report of an archaeological survey done last year that shows skull fragments were found east of the mound. The remains and shards of bowls and other artifacts were also found outside the mound property, according to the draft report.

The museum owns the 1-acre tract that holds the Pillsbury Temple Mound, and the remains were found outside the property, near developer Bill Manfull's home.

But other tests on a neighboring 9.4-acre tract where Manfull has proposed a 14-home subdivision did not reveal any artifacts, according to the draft dated May 2006.

On Thursday, Manfull, who paid for the survey, said he knew "they found pieces of something," but was not told about the remains. He said he had not seen the draft report.

"The data in there is accurate and reliable," said Marion Almy, a manager with Sarasota-based Archaeological Consultants Inc. "Why it remains in draft form is because we are awaiting additional information from our client."

She said it may have been part of the burial mound where an archaeologist had found human remains in 1963. The state archaeologist has been notified of the find.

The findings appear to confirm a belief held by local archaeologist Bill Burger that the burial mound extends to outside the museum's property. A concrete driveway separates the mound and where the remains were found.

Neighbors and groups interested in the mound's preservation were pleased to hear about the museum board's decision, but were still a little wary.

Since word of the mound's "For Sale" sign spread last week, the county even expressed interest in buying the mound.

The 60-day window would allow the county, or other organizations interested in preserving the mound, to bid for the mound with a plan on how to preserve it, said Jeff King, president of the museum's board.

"It's wide open. The board would accept offers from 0 to whatever," he said. "We're more keyed in on the preservation and protection than the money."

The board also set up a committee to explore how the museum could keep, maintain and exhibit the mound, King said.

The board will schedule a special meeting after the 60 days to discuss offers and the option to keep it, he said.

Nick Baden, a museum board member who opposed the sale, said he was "mildly pleased with the outcome."

George Garcia, of the American Indian Movement in Florida, called the board's decision "agreeable," and continues to push for a barbed wire fence to be built around the mound.

Scott Bassett, who lives near the mound, had already started organizing a community meeting to talk about plans to preserve the mound.

"I would feel more comfortable if the county owns the parcel because it seems more likely to be protected in those circumstances," he said.

County Commissioner Joe McClash had imagined how the Pillsbury Temple Mound would fit neatly into the county's inventory of historic and environmentally significant sites.

"The money is not the issue," he said. "We have 60 days to work out the business deal."

Since the mound had been on the market, Manfull offered $100,000 for it, but was turned down. Another archaeological foundation, which King had declined to name, has also expressed interest.

Manfull said he's also for preserving the mound.

"My only concern is that if the county and museum work some arrangement out that it not become a public park, where people can come hang out," he said. "I don't have an issue with people walking on the sidewalk visiting the mound during day hours, but I don't want a public hangout with no public supervision."

Manfull vowed to fight the keep the road, leading to the mound and his own driveway, private.

But whether he could do that sparked questions.

A 1982 zoning document had required nearby property owners to provide public access to the mound. A 1983 deed for the mound showed there was supposed to be a road from 21st Avenue Northwest to the mound.

King said the museum's attorney is already looking into the issue.

County planners, in a meeting Tuesday, asked Manfull to review the matter as part of the application for his subdivision.

So far, Manfull's project has met with objections from neighbors, who cited the mound and the incompatibility of his planned subdivision with the neighborhood as their main reasons.

Manfull said they were just using the mound as a way to fight a development they don't want to see in their backyard.

He argued that the single-family homes he proposes building, with a minimum size of 14,000 square feet including a home and yard, are bigger than those in neighboring subdivisions. Plus, his $6 million home is just north of the subdivision, he said, so why would he build something that would decrease his property value?

"They're using the media and the mound to combat my plans," he said.

But Bassett, who lives nearby, said that wasn't the case.

"I told him flat out I didn't have a problem with a development going in," he said. "My interest in the mound is separate from the development . . . They're folded together because they happen simultaneously."

Mound history

The Pillsbury Temple Mound, believed to have been a cremation and burial site for a now-extinct native Floridian culture, was first recorded in 1929. But it wasn't until 1963 that a burial mound abutting the temple mound was formally excavated. The dig resulted in the discovery of 147 remains, 134 of which are now in the collection of the Florida Museum of Natural History, in Gainesville. Local archaeologists believe the remaining 13 bodies are still in the mound, and there may be more since the larger temple mound has never been excavated. It's listed on the state's database for unmarked burial sites.