SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – After languishing for decades in an old shed, several artifacts from the Illinois town where Mormon church founder Joseph Smith settled have been reclaimed and catalogued.
Among them are not only pieces of the original Nauvoo, Ill. temple’s baptismal font and floor, fragments of sun stones and moon stones, but also items that reflect the everyday life of early Latter-day Saints – including silverware, ceramics, fruit and canning jars, medicine bottles, lanterns and even children’s dolls.
Such recovered items could help flesh out details about those whose names never appear in any written account, such as women, children and minorities.
”There are tremendous stories that these things tell. It’s really a history written in stones and bones,” said Shane Baker, a former Brigham Young University archaeologist who led the push to reclaim the artifacts.
First excavated during the 1960s at the site of the original Nauvoo Temple and other historic buildings, the items were boxed and put away for future study, but apparently fell through the cracks over the intervening decades.
Mormons had originally settled in Nauvoo in the 1800s. But their growing power and different beliefs created friction with non-Mormon residents, and the faithful eventually fled after Smith was killed by a mob in 1844.
Baker secured funding from the Foundation for Ancient Research in Mormon Studies and the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation to lead a team that cleaned, catalogued and repackaged the items this past summer.
When Baker and his team got to the site last August, cardboard boxes containing the items – stored inside an old garage – were deteriorating and had become a haven for rodents. The team spent a week cleaning, cataloguing, repackaging and boxing the entire collection.
Baker said he became aware of the collection from his work with BYU archaeologist Dale Berge, who knew about it after working on the collection following excavations in the 1960s.
Berge’s work on the excavated items took place at the old Lyon Drug store in Nauvoo, a historic building with modern additions that he used as an archaeological lab, Baker said.
He returned for several summers to work on the project, and locked the lab when he left to return the next summer.
However, Berge was not around when artifacts at the drugstore had to be boxed up and moved while the building was renovated, Baker said.
After Berge’s work ended, Baker said, the items were ”moved three or four times. They resided at some point in a barn and they ended up finally in this shed-like storage structure and just sat there.”
Not for just a year or two, but for nearly four decades.
Berge returned to Nauvoo in 2001 to find out what had become of them. He found many had, at one time, been displayed in the restored Seventies Hall, but the rest were lying in storage.
After talking with Berge, Baker decided to seek funding to recover and organize the collection.
Now, Baker said, the goal is to make some of the collection available for exhibition at some point. Details are pending.