Just two blocks away from busy Brickell Avenue, near skyscrapers, luxurious bars and restaurants and just in front of a Miami Metrorail station, stands a small wooden house decorated with vibrant paintings and surrounded by mango trees, a proud natural oasis in the middle of the heavy traffic and endless construction.
The owner calls it the “Well of Ancient Mysteries.” Ishmael Bermudez, 65, AKA Golden Eagle, his native name, has been been excavating his property for almost half a century. Through the years, he has found artifacts used in ancient rituals, humanoid fossils, prehistoric objects and a fountain of youth of sorts: a spring.
The 5,000-square-foot property, located on Southwest 11th Street, is valued at more than $1.8 million, and its price will likely continue to increase, as it has been over the past few years. But Bermudez has no intention of selling, and he’s made that clear to the insistent contractors who have come from different parts of the world to knock on his door.
“There’s not enough money that can buy what’s on this land because it’s simply priceless,” Bermudez said. “How can you put a price on the history of humanity? It has none.”
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For the amateur archaeologist, the only way he would give up his property is if he had a guarantee it would be preserved intact for future generations.
“Maybe like a museum or an archaeological landmark for the city,” he said. “But in these difficult times, it’s hard to believe that someone would have a clean enough soul to do something like this because people only care about making money.”
Bermudez was born in Colombia, but his father, an American soldier and descendant of the Pueblo and Navajo tribes, instilled in him a desire to hold on to his Native American roots.
When he turned 8, Bermudez and his family moved to Miami.
“Life was simple. We were surrounded by clean beaches, fruit trees on all sides, crisp, pure air and silence,” Bermudez recalls.
Of all his memories, he speaks proudly of the day that his sixth-grade teacher at Brickell’s Southside Elementary chose him to search for one of the springs that the ancient Tequesta drank from before they escaped from the Europeans during colonization. The reason for the search, according to Bermudez, was the panic caused by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the threat of radiation in drinking water if nuclear war broke out.
Bermudez, 12 at the time, started to dig in the backyard of his house without knowing that this labor would last the rest of his life.
“Many thought I was crazy,” he said. “While other children played, I spent the time digging.”
An elderly Native American woman Bermudez called Queenie helped him identify the artifacts he began digging up.
“She told me that I needed to look for the ancient tree beneath my house, and that that’s where I would find the fountain of sacred water,” Bermudez said.
After years of excavation, Bermudez discovered a giant cypress tree trunk that, alongside a chimney built toward the end of the 19th century, made it clear the history of the property spanned hundreds of years.
When Bermudez turned 19, he finally found a pure water spring, just a few yards from his home close to a mango tree.
“Since then, the water has not stopped flowing,” Bermudez said, showing off the hose system that brings water from the depths.
“Aside from being sacred, this water is rich in minerals and free from any toxins,” he said. “That’s why those of us who drink it stay healthy.”
The spring has provided water for Bermudez’s home since the day it was discovered, it also served dozens of Mariel refugees living nearby.
“The residents in the area were very cruel to the Marielitos,” Bermudez said. “They discriminated against them and even denied them basic services. They came and formed lines in front of my house carrying empty buckets so I could fill them with water. I never told them no because this water fountain is for everybody.”
Through the years, hundreds of people have gone to Bermudez’s house in search of a sacred space where they can practice spiritual rituals or native reunions.
Some people are attracted to the colorful walls, the work of Burke Keogh, Bermudez’s partner. Her paintings are a combination of environmentalist declarations, natural landscapes and feminist manifestos.
Although Bermudez says some archaeologists have paid a visit, the home remains mostly unknown, even after the discovery in the 1990s of the Miami Circle a few blocks away, believed to be an ancient Tequesta site.
Archaeologist Bob Carr, one of the main investigators of the Miami Circle, has visited Bermudez’s property on many occasions.
“It’s definitely an admirable work, and it’s a giant project,” Carr said. “I have to say that some of the discovered objects [on Bermudez’s land] were part of the Tequesta culture, and there’s also animal bones and prehistoric shells.”
Taking care of land
With the help of his partner and a small group of environmentalists, Bermudez opened a Facebook page with the name “Well of Ancient Mysteries” and tried to boost awareness about the importance of preserving what the native people call the “Pachamama,” or Mother Earth.
Meanwhile, his house remains open for those “with good intentions” who want to visit. He personally tells guests detailed accounts of the history of each artifact and takes his time to explain the scientific reasons behind his beliefs. He also offers spiritual and cultural contexts, as well.
“I’m committed to sharing the knowledge I have acquired through an excavation of more than 50 years, waiting for people to understand that we can’t keep destroying our natural resources. If there’s no water, there’s no humanity.”
Follow Estephani Cano on Twitter @EstephaniCano.