Gold rush garbage mined to unearth history of Chinese miners in B.C.
Clues to the lives of 2,000 Chinese miners found in Barkerville's gold rush garbage
A B.C. archaeologist is mining a garbage dump beside an old Chinese restaurant, working to unearth clues about the lives of Chinese gold miners more than a century ago.
Dawn Ainsley's dig site is in the Chinatown section of Barkerville Historic Town and Park, about 700 kilometres north of Vancouver.
2,000 Chinese miners
At the height of the gold rush, about 2,000 Chinese miners lived in the area, making up about half of the local population.
Now, working beside historical wooden buildings, Ainsley picks through layers of trash thrown off the side porch of the Doy Ying Low restaurant as far back as 1870.
The garbage has been buried in layers of mud from the flooding that's occurred in the last 150 years.
The treasure trove of trash was discovered during modern-day excavations for water and sewer lines.
Now, several days a week, Ainsley digs into the refuse pile with a shovel, filling a simple, silver bucket labelled "archeology." Then she sifts the material and dries the artifacts at her lab.
Some days are very mundane, "with nothing but broken glass and rusted metal," she says.
"But then other days, amazing things come out of there."
Her discoveries include dominoes, Chinese medicine bottles, opium tins and pipe pieces, beer bottles, and a bone that appears to be a crochet hook.
History in garbage
Ainsley has found Qing dynasty coins that are almost 400 years old.
There has also been a toothpaste cap, a can of tinned meat, and many pork bones. Ainsley thinks some of the bones came from suckling pigs, and there's evidence there was a pig roasting pit near the restaurant.
"There's a lot of history in garbage, absolutely," said James Douglas, who heads Barkerville's public programming and global media development.
"In fact some of the greatest things we've ever [discovered] have come out of garbage dumps," he said. "She's been finding some remarkable artifacts."
Rich Chinese history during gold rush
Barkerville already has one of the largest Chinese archival collections in Canada, with approximately 18,500 items.
Ben Zhou has worked in Barkerville's living history program, dressing in costume to portray a gold rush era Chinese school teacher.
Tourists visit his Chinese school house for old-fashioned lessons in Mandarin and calligraphy.
Zhou says many visitors are surprised to learn about the gold rush's rich Chinese history.
"The men came here from Guangdong province," said Zhou.
"They were looking forward to make some money to help [their] family back home. They wanted to find gold. They worked hard."
Zhou applauds Ainsley's efforts to find out more about the lives of these Chinese men.
"It's very important," he said.