DAWN AINSLEY, STAFF ARCHAEOLOGIST AT Canada’s Gold-Rush-era Barkerville historic town and park, was overseeing the installation of a new sewer line in 2012 when diggers struck a different kind of gold: garbage. “Every time we hit a garbage dump we had to stop and monitor it,” says Ainsley of the dig. The site of a largely Chinese-Canadian mining town established in the 1860s, and now an open-air museum, Barkerville is full of meaningful trash, the result of generations of household waste tossed off back porches and into alleyways.
But this particular garbage pit—or midden, in archaeological speak—wasn’t just off any old porch. It was located between two historic restaurants, the now-defunct Doy Ying Low restaurant, established in the 1870s, and the Lung Duck Tong, established in the 1920s, which continues to serve as an eatery for visitors today. When Barkerville staff started digging through the find, they uncovered a unique record of the daily culinary life of the thousands of Chinese-Canadian prospectors who had left China for the promised “gold mountains” of Western Canada’s mining towns. Findings included evidence of a century-old pig roast, dominoes and drinking parties, and one very old, still-intact piece of canned meat similar to Spam.