Crews unearth Mormon pioneer baptistry near Provo temple site
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Provo's Mormon Tabernacle block has yielded another piece of Utah's pioneer past.

Brigham Young University's Office of Public Archaeology has unearthed the remains of an 1870s baptistry.

"There has been nothing like it ever found before in the church," said Benjamin Pykles, a historic-sites curator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "It is certainly the earliest known baptismal font in Utah County."

BYU archaeology students, under the direction of Rich Talbot, director of BYU's Office of Public Archaeology, excavated the building and documented the finds.

"We knew where the building was supposed to be," he said, "but we didn't know what we were going to find."

In addition to the foundation walls, Talbot's team found the wooden floor of the font, as well as the water pipe that filled it and the stand for the stove that heated the building and the water.

The building, located northwest of the remains of the 1880s Provo Tabernacle, was built in the 1870s and, church records show, was used until at least 1907.

The baptistry allowed Mormons to be baptized year-round, rather than having to wait for spring and summer, when streams and lakes were warm enough to perform the ordinance.

Pykles and Talbot said they also found plaster in the interior walls, showing that the inside was primarily painted a sky blue with bits of green and brown as well.

Talbot said that Abraham O. Smoot, the LDS stake president who directed the building of the current Provo Tabernacle and the baptistry, wanted a place where the ordinance could be performed in greater privacy.

The LDS Church and BYU have documented the site, including a three-dimensional laser scan that picks up details as small as 2 millimeters across.

Talbot's students did a similar dig on the remains of the first Provo Tabernacle, which was located north of the current structure.

The church is in the process of converting the tabernacle — which was gutted in a December 2010 fire — into a Mormon temple. Elder William Walker of the church's Temple Department said in a recent regional conference that the Provo City Center Temple will be completed in 2015.

dmeyers@sltrib.com

Twitter: @donaldwmeyers