Evidence of Buffalo’s prehistoric past can be found at Delaware Park, if one knows how and where to look for it.
A team of University at Buffalo archaeologists has been doing just that, recently digging up artifacts that include tools fashioned from the limestone bedrock where Scajaquada Creek once ran through the park.
For thousands of years, Native Americans used the Onondaga flint in the limestone quarry, and despite the modern land use that followed – including the Scajaquada Expressway – remnants of their handiwork remain.
Lots of them.
“I know it’s hard to believe, with people chomping around all over the place and all of this modern architecture and built infrastructure, but there is still evidence of prehistoric campsites throughout Delaware Park,” said Douglas Pirelli, director and principal investigator of the UB Archaeological Survey. “The people who live around there would never imagine that a few inches below the ground’s surface is a record of 10,000 years of prehistory.”
Team member Joe McGreevy said he has seen many stone tools, projectile points and chert flakes, a byproduct of stone making. Other artifacts include dishware, broken glass and the things “someone threw out the window on the 198,” McGreevy said.
The team of UB archaeologists was hired four years ago by the state Department of Transportation to identify ancient archaeological areas of significance.
The DOT wanted the work done before embarking on a proposed $85 million project to downgrade the highway into a pedestrian- and bike-friendly boulevard.
The project area runs from Parkside Avenue to Grant Street, where the archaeologists have been digging shovel test pits 35 centimeters in diameter and sifting the dirt through quarter-inch mesh.
They’ve collected prehistoric, historic and modern artifacts while determining the sites – many of which run near the expressway – that are worthy of further investigation.
Other historic materials that have been found at the park include clusters of bones and other artifacts that likely were from the large number of slaughterhouses that operated in the mid-1800s on the margins of the park.
“One thing I love about architecture in this area is that you never know what you will find until you dig in the ground,” McGreevy said.
“My favorite part about excavating is you actually get to touch history by unraveling a mystery of the past,” added team member Bridgette Slavin. “Other people’s garbage is an archaeologist’s treasure.”
Slavin said she has been surprised by how much remains in a natural state in Delaware Park.
“I thought the area had been so damaged by the road construction and construction of the park that we wouldn’t find anything prehistoric, but there are areas in the park that still have natural soil that hasn’t been disturbed,” Slavin said.
“The work can be very tedious, it can be slow. It’s the really exciting finds that keep you going, and looking forward to the next one,” she said.