HomeChinese AmericanFirst Archaeological Dig in Boston's Chinatown Underway
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First Archaeological Dig in Boston’s Chinatown Underway

Boston Chinatown archaeological dig
From City of Boston archaeological program Facebook page

The first ever archaeological dig in Boston’s Chinatown began yesterday at a vacant lot adjacent to the ornate Chinatown gate, reports the Boston Globe.

The lot has a unique history. Originally under water, the area was filled with dirt in 1840, and a 3.5-story row-house was built the following year. Waves of English, Irish, and Syrian immigrants came and went before Chinese immigrants settled there and called it home. The building was demolished in 1989, and has been vacant ever since.

The project is led by Boston’s city archaeologist Joseph Bagley, who hopes to unearth the unwritten history of its former residents. “Our goal in archaeology is to always find stuff that tells us something about the story that we don’t have written down,” Bagley said in an interview with WBUR. He said that tax records only record adult men, and his goal is to find artifacts that tell us something about the women and children.

“[We’re] always looking for toys. We’re going to be digging in the backyard and that was the place children played, but also toys very often [are] used as teaching tools to train young girls how to be wise, to train young boys how to play and to build…. Because this is a house, we’re going to be seeing a lot of the domestic artifacts that were used in the kitchen, living room and bedroom. Those are the artifacts that are going [to] really tell us the story of some of the women in the family especially since many of them would be homemakers at this time in the 19th and early 20th centuries.”

The biggest find would be an outhouse, Bagley told WCVB News, which would likely contain dishes, clothing, food scraps, and possibly even traces of people’s DNA.

A group of 80 volunteers will dig 4 feet deep into the vacant lot at 6 Hudson Street that is approximately 400 square feet. The lot is owned by Wilson Lee, who jokingly told CBS Boston, “we’re just really excited, hopefully we find some gold pantaloons, gold coins.”

On a more serious note, Lee said that he hopes whatever they find “can be handed down to the next generation.”

Bagley has this same interest in mind. His team will catalog and photograph every artifact they find so that they can create a searchable database and a written report summarizing and interpreting their findings. Bagley is also in discussion with the Chinese Historical Society of New England and Friends of Boston Archaeology about funding sources for exhibits.

“We want to bring the artifacts back to the community,” Bagley said in his interview with WBUR, “to highlight artifacts that really tell the story of the site and exhibit them in public in Chinatown.”

Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh echoed the excitement for the first archaeological dig in Boston’s historic Chinatown. “Boston is a city of immigrants, and this is an important piece of Boston’s history,” Mayor Walsh said.

An official groundbreaking ceremony will be held today. Among those scheduled to speak is Tiffany Foo, author and granddaughter of Ruby Foo, the restauranteur who opened Ruby Foo’s Den in the former row-house. “The Den” was “one of the city’s most popular eateries” and “the first Chinese restaurant that successfully catered to and attracted a non-Chinese clientele” according to Rubyfookitchen.com

Updates from the dig will be posted by the City of Boston Archaeology Program on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and will be tagged with the hashtags #digbos and #digchinatown.

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