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Late 19th-Century Chinatown Unearthed in Montana

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Chinese Medicine BottlesMISSOULA, MONTANA—Missoulian reports that artifacts dating back to the late nineteenth century were recovered by a team led by University of Montana archaeologist Kelly Dixon working at a construction site in downtown Missoula, in what was the city’s red-light district and home to a Chinese temple. Nikki Manning of the University of Montana explained that “Chinatowns” and red-light districts were often found in close proximity to each other in the American West because Chinese doctors were often willing to treat prostitutes when others refused. Many of the objects uncovered at the site, such as Chinese ceramics, pill vials associated with Chinese traditional medicine, oyster shells, crab claws, pig skulls, rooster bones, a Chinese lock, a pocket knife, rice bowls, and opium paraphernalia have been linked to Chinese immigrants who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad. Perfume bottles, feminine hygiene products, and cosmetic jars associated with the presence of prostitution were also recovered. “Because of the small size of the neighborhood and the amount of urban development that has occurred over the past century, this is one of the only intact archaeological sites pertaining to the red-light district and Chinese community in Missoula that we are likely to find,” Manning said. For more on the communities established by early Chinese Americans, go to "America's Chinatowns."

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