The story flooded Facebook feeds all over South Florida last week. Topped with a photo of a construction site filled with tall, dusty pillars, it boasted of a remarkable discovery: ancient Roman ruins discovered right in downtown Miami. "This find will change everything we know about modern history if it can be dated and identified to truly be Roman," the story breathlessly claimed.
The post quickly went viral, with hundreds of shares and comments. "Say what??? #ancienttemples in #Miami???" one person freaked out. "The Romans were in America... That's why Caesar is buried in I think it's Illinois... Huge cover-up. Cleopatra too," another quipped. Interest spiked so much that construction workers at the site had to put up opaque netting to keep gawkers at bay.
Hate to break it to you, Miami, but the story is about as reliable as Mario Chalmers' point guard skills. It's a classic case of a piece with just enough facts to pass off as the truth in the quick-sharing Facebook era — but it's totally bogus. "This is way off the beaten path," says Paul George, a historian at HistoryMiami. "It's utterly unbelievable that someone started this ridiculous myth on a whim."
Don't feel too bad if you fell for the hoax. After all, there really are ancient ruins under Miami's condos. Just a few years ago, the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy confirmed the discovery of South Florida's largest Tequesta Native American cemetery at a downtown construction site. The 2,000-year-old cemetery is located just 800 feet from the Miami Circle, another mysterious structure built by native inhabitants.
What's more, the photo topping the story is also totally legit. It comes from a construction site at 151 SE First Ave., right behind the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, where a new high-rise condo project is underway; there really are some odd-looking pillars at the site.
But that's where fact veers wildly from the fiction in the story. According to George, the "ancient Roman-like structures" are in fact left over from the site's previous tenant — the historic Urmey Hotel, which opened in 1916 and closed its doors decades ago. It was known for its Roman-esque columns, but they were anything but authentic.
The website that posted the story — ourcrave.com, a "lifestyle destination" site registered through godaddy.com in Arizona — claims that experts from the National Archaeological Museum of Perugia in Italy speculated that settlers fleeing the collapsing Western Roman Empire may have sailed all the way to the Americas.
A quick history lesson confirms that yes, Romans fled the Italian peninsula when the Roman Empire collapsed in the Fifth Century. Does that mean they traveled 5,000 miles across the Atlantic just to get to the sunny beaches of Miami? Not so much.
George says that although the Romans made it as far as Southeast Asia, Africa, and Western Europe, they definitely did not reach America, let alone Miami. "It just didn't happen," he says. "Whoever wrote that is thousands of miles out of the realm of possibility."
That fact hasn't stopped crowds from stopping by the site. A construction worker there tells Riptide that tarps were put up last week to thwart onlookers.
Sorry, Miami, you've been duped. We may have King James, but we don't have a stake in the Roman Empire.