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Archaeologists, community dig for artifacts at Buffalo's Michigan Street Baptist Church

The community archaeological digs will continue Saturday, September 18, then again on September 24 and 25.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Archaeologists from the University at Buffalo and community members are digging into the past of the Michigan Street Baptist Church, quite literally.

Their goal is to find artifacts to help tell a more detailed story of the people who helped build the church in the 1840s, and those who were heavily involved in the years following.

According to the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition, the Michigan Street Baptist Church is the oldest building in Buffalo built and continuously owned and occupied by the city's Black residents.

The team from UB's Department of Anthropology is leading the archaeological dig on the property adjacent to the church building.

"Right next to the church was the home of Peyton Harris, one of the founding members of the church. If you actually walk our lawn, you can see the rocks that we think were part of the foundation of this home," said Lillie Wiley-Upshaw, chair of the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition.

"I think we're hoping to discover artifacts that helps to inform what their daily life could have been like. Maybe we will find a hair brush, or maybe we will find a pipe or something. Maybe there will be papers that are still legible, who knows. I think that's part of the fun, discovering something."

The team isn't just digging random holes. It's a methodical three-stage process that begins with marking off grids and doing shovel tests of mapped-off areas.

"By sifting the dirt from a grid pattern of shovel tests, it allows us to understand the artifact patterns — where artifacts are concentrated so we can focus our other excavations in areas that are more effective or positive," said Douglas Perrelli, the director of archaeological survey in UB's Department of Anthropology.

He's also the team leader at the church dig site.

On Friday, those working on site found pieces of pottery dating back to between the 1830s and 1890s. They brought a historic artifact collection with them to compare samples and try and determine what the newly discovered pieces are and when they're from.

"There's always that moment of excitement [when you find something], and every archaeologist looks for that, hungers for that. And it's the next project and the next project that keeps us going," Perrelli said.

The tools they're using aren't fancy by any means: shovels, trowels, and wooden boxes lined with mesh to sift through dirt and debris to hopefully find something of historical significance.

All members of the public are encouraged to come down to the site and get their hands dirty and help with the excavation process.

The team will dig on Saturday, September 18, then again on Friday and Saturday, September 24 and 25 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Michigan Street Baptist Church is located at 511 Michigan Street, near Broadway, in Buffalo.

The church will be open for free tours on September 25 as part of Explore Buffalo's "Doors Open Buffalo." Tours are $15 on all other dig days.