MANATEE - Archaeology and Native American groups have inched closer to obtaining protection for a sensitive, historical burial mound northwest of Bradenton.
County officials Tuesday opted to draw up a contract to purchase the Pillsbury Mound from the South Florida Museum, which is seeking $200,000 for the 1-acre property. Museum officials say they want to sell it because it doesn't fit their education mission.
Commissioner Joe McClash met with museum officials, who said they would like to sell the mound to an organization interested in preservation. He estimated a contract could be ready for the museum to consider in as little as two weeks.
Earlier in the day, Bill Manfull, who also owns a waterfront mansion north of the Pillsbury Temple Mound, told Manatee County commissioners he made a $100,000 offer to the museum to buy the property to ensure its preservation.
Manfull said he wants to see the site preserved, but his offer was denied since the museum is asking double that amount.
"I'm opposed to bringing forth public access to (the mound) . . . because of the liability of people crossing my property and misusing the land," Manfull said. "I don't see a reason for the county to spend tax dollars on it. It's historic, we'll protect it and we'll agree to that. My wife and I propose we protect it."
However, instead of Manfull's offer, the county will look into grants and funding from the Division of Historical Resources, though that grant would require the county to match up to $50,000.
News the mound was on the market had sparked an outcry among preservationists and local Native American groups.
Ruby Beaulieu, a member of the Chippewa tribe and a member of the American Indian Movement, said she is concerned about the protection of the burial mound.
"So many have already been destroyed and I'd like to see this one preserved," Beaulieu said. "The property was deeded to the museum. Wouldn't it be good if they donated it back without a price?"
She added that the site would not require much maintenance because many burial sites are "left to nature."
Florida Public Archaeology Network Director Richard Estabrook was on hand to support the county's acquisition of the property. Estabrook offered the network's services to help obtain grants, if needed.
The museum had received at least three offers for the property, including the one from Manfull. A nonprofit archaeological group had expressed interest in the property, but that deal also had not worked out, museum officials said.
So far, the museum hasn't received other offers for the property, Jeff King, president of the museum's board of directors, said Tuesday.
After a meeting Feb. 21, the museum's board of directors decided to take the "for sale" sign off the property and give the county and other interested groups a chance to come up with a price and proposal on how they would preserve the mound.
The board also set up a committee to look into marketing the mound as a museum exhibit. The bids and the committee's report are due to the board within 60 days of the meeting.
On March 2, a local archaeologist, neighbors, members of the American Indian Movement of Florida, museum and county representatives held a community meeting to share ideas on how to preserve the mound.
Bill Burger, a local archaeologist, said he was going push county officials to add a covenant to Manfull's project to preserve the mound before the project is approved.
But legal questions about the size of the original property holding the mound and access to it remained unanswered.
"We're just in the information gathering mode. We're using the 60 days to gather information from the various parties," King said. "We've asked our attorney to do a complete title search on it. We haven't gotten a report yet on that."
Sylvia Lim, education reporter, can be reached at 745-7041 or slim@Bradenton.com.
A brief history
The Pillsbury Temple Mound is believed to have been a cremation and burial site for a now-extinct native Floridian culture. It was first recorded by archaeologists in 1929, and in 1963 a burial mound abutting the temple mound was formally excavated. The dig resulted in the discovery of 147 remains, 134 of them now in the collection of the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. Local archaeologists said they believe the remaining 13 bodies are still in the mound, and there may be more because the larger temple mound has never been excavated. In an archaeological survey performed last year, skull fragments were found near the Pillsbury Temple Mound. Experts believe the remains were part of the burial mound abutting the temple mound. The Pillsbury Temple Mound is listed on the state's database for unmarked burial sites.