Nicodemus Bit by bit - sometimes literally - a 16-day dig gave amateur anthropologists a look into the 1870s and life in the first post-Civil War settlement founded by and for blacks.
One day, the dig in early June turned up pottery fragments.
"It was crushed up," said Sharon Sage, of Auburn, who was documenting the dig for the Kansas Anthropological Association. "They think it was an earthenware bowl. They think the pieces they've dug up can be refit."
By the end of the dig, there was more.
The digging and sifting turned up the stone walls of a dugout home, along with the door frame of a root cellar. Artifacts included a metal butter knife, glass bottles, metal and shell buttons, tin cans and the stand for a sewing machine, dated April 1879.
The project focused on a dugout site about 2 1/2 miles northwest of Nicodemus.
According to oral histories collected by the Kansas State Historical Society, Emma Johnson Williams and her family emigrated from Kentucky to Kansas in the 1870s. She was pregnant at the time, and other settlers helped the Williams family construct the dugout in time for the baby's arrival.
The field school, which drew almost 45 participants, is a partnership between the state historical society, the anthropological association, Washburn University, the Midwest Archeological Center, the Nicodemus National Historic Site and the Nicodemus Historical Society.
"This site gives us a different impression of the African-American past," said Flordeliz Bugarin, principal investigator for the field school and assistant professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "It's an opportunity to document the past of African-Americans that needs to be more emphasized."
Groups from Washburn did preliminary work at the dugout site in 2006, part of a multi-year project to excavate such structures.
Washburn students, joined by students from Howard, returned to Nicodemus for two weeks in May to do research at the former schoolhouse site.
Artifacts found at the two sites will be analyzed at Howard, Bugarin said, as researchers study the lives of the freed slaves who started new lives in Kansas.
"This wasn't a dream," she said, "but they saw it through."