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Recent finds at Jefferson church dig hint at older inhabitants

By Caleb Brabham
July 16, 2017 at 4 a.m.

Recent  Texas A&M University anthropology graduate Kari Dickson and volunteer Leta Kay, left, look at a shard of glass Wednesday found at the Jefferson UMBC dig site.

JEFFERSON - Gary Endsley, Collins Academy director and leader of the ongoing archaeological salvage project at Union Missionary Baptist Church in Jefferson, has known for years the site's history dated back before the Civil War. Recently, he said artifacts have been found that hint the site's original inhabitants were much older.

"We have found three components. We have the 1883 church, under that we have the 1847 church and under that we have an archaic Native American prehistoric component," Endsley said, adding the original UMBC building, at 520 Houston St., is thought to have been built in about 1847 after one of Jefferson's founders, Captain William Perry, and his wife gave three 50 by 150 foot lots of land so slaves and freedmen could have a place to worship.

The building itself has gone through several incarnations since its creation; the original church burned down in 1868 during reconstruction, later being rebuilt in about 1883.

"We have also found artifacts that indicate they are pre-Caddo and are 2,000 plus years old," Endsley said, stating the dig has uncovered a piece of Arkansas chirt, or flint, and a piece of ochre, red clay that has consolidated into solid chunks.

"The ocre was used as war paint to paint their faces and bodies," Endsley said. "The material indicates it is from the Archaic Period, which goes from 2,000 to 10,000 years ago. During that period the Native Americans were all hunter-gatherers. They had not developed the bow and arrow yet and they had not learned how to do pottery yet."

Endsley said the elevated location of the site above the river was also a clue to the find's possible pedigree.

"Those archaic people loved to get above the water source where they could see game going to and from water," Endsley said.

Process

UMBC underwent an asbestos abatement this spring where the outer walls and sheet rock were removed and the church annex, added in the 1950s, was demolished.

In the area where the annex stood, recent Texas A&M University anthropology graduate Kari Dickson, who is working on the dig before heading to graduate school, has setup shop alongside other volunteers.

"We are currently excavating this plot," Dickson said, adding the current phase of the dig began by creating cross sections in the recently cleared area before digging 70 centimeter sample holes to get an idea of what lay layers below.

The archaic artifacts were found at the bottom of one of these holes.

"We've just gotten through our first level," she said. "We go dig 10 centimeters at a time. We are carefully removing each layer of soil, but leaving artifacts we find in their primary context.

"Once we are finished with this layer we will have several artifacts that are plateaued; we will document it, take photos and be able to remove it without losing the information that we gathered," Dickson said. "Based on how something is in the soil will tell us where it was thrown from. We have broken pottery, glass. If they are all laid together it is probably part of the same product."

Restoration

In addition to the dig, Endsley said Collins Academy has made strides towards restoring the church to its former glory, slowly beginning renovations of UMBC into a heritage center. Endsley said in renovating the church, the top floor was taken up to reveal the original flooring of the 1883 structure.

Endsley said the next step will be a slow process as foundation beams in the church are replaced, the original flooring is patched, walls are straightened and the roof is removed and replaced.

"We are refinishing to make it look the way we think it was in 1883," Endsley said. "As you can tell, it has its own look and its look is similar to other early churches."

When finished, the heritage center will serve as a museum displaying the timeline and story of the church. Endsley said he hopes members of the UMBC congregation, who are still around today and meeting in churches and homes throughout Jefferson, will be able to return to worship in the renovated facility.

For additional information, visit here or contact Endsley at info@collinsacademy.com.

Read more:Archaeology dig takes leap forward, unearths baptistry of historical Jefferson church, Layers of history peeled back in archaeological dig at 100-year-old Jefferson church, Union Missionary Baptist Church in Jefferson still standing after century

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