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The Birchtown archaeological dig was definitely history in the making. It was the first time that there was an archaeological dig for a black settlement in the history of Canada. It began in September 1993 and continued until November of that year. The dig was sponsored by The Shelburne County Cultural Awareness Society, now known as The Black Loyalist Heritage Society.

The event that sparked the Birchtown Archaeological Survey was the announcement that Fox Ridges, an area just outside of Birchtown, was being considered as a great prospect for a new regional landfill. The society felt that placing a landfill at Fox Ridges would be another act in the continuing saga of placing landfills in areas important to black history. The Society, with many other community members, protested the landfill and they initiated the search for funds to conduct an archaeological dig in Birchtown. The dig was conducted by archaeologist Laird Niven, who is a former resident of Shelburne.

The team had a difficult task in sectioning off the land for the dig. Because there are no surviving original land grants that document the settlement of the Black Loyalists of 1783, the team had to rely on maps of Birchtown that were drawn up at a later date. The group then began to block off areas for study. The areas were not chosen randomly, but were based on differences in ground structures. Nine sites were examined and test pits were looked at in each site.

The researchers found artifacts such as pieces of glass and earthenware, nails and flint. They also found depressions that may have been dwelling places called pit houses. The main reason for assuming the pit houses were dwelling places is based on oral history. A former resident of Birchtown told an interviewer that his grandfather had told him about the blacks living in holes in the ground, and this style of house was typical for armies on the march at the time. Further research has revealed some maps of the area and some of the sites are slowly being connected with specific land grants and family names. New sites are discovered and investigated each year, and the ongoing efforts are helping to paint a picture of what life was like for the original inhabitants of Birchtown.

Stone Mounds: With kind permission of Veronica Brown
Some have suggested that mysterious stone mounds near Birchtown are related to African religious practices. Archaeological investigation revealed no evidence of human remains.

Heritage Complex