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China's Cangdong village, where many Chinese migrants originated (photo courtesy of Stanford University)

SOU archaeologists participate in study of Chinese migrants’ homeland

(Ashland, Ore.) — Three members of the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) have participated in a three-year, international project to investigate everyday lives of 19th century Chinese migrants both in the U.S. and their Chinese homeland.

The Cangdong Village Project – which was confidential until this month – was led by Stanford University and involved researchers from at least seven U.S. universities and one in China.

“This important project marks the first-ever archaeological study of its kind, and we are so excited that SOU was able to play a role in this milestone transnational research project,” said SOU research archeologist Chelsea Rose, who served as a crew chief.

Her work on the project involved multiple trips over the past couple years to Cangdong village in southern China’s Pearl River Delta region – part of a five-county area that was home to most of the Chinese who migrated to the U.S. during the 19th century.

Rose serves as a research faculty member in the SOU Laboratory of Anthropology, where her focus is on archaeology of the American West – particularly the dispersal of an early Chinese migrant population in Oregon. She has been involved in the Stanford-based Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project, which led to the Cangdong project.

She was joined on the Cangdong project by fellow SOULA employees Katie Johnson-Noggle, who served as the project’s cartographer and graphic designer, and Tyler Davis, who worked as a field researcher.

The project examined the practices of Cangdong Village residents during about a 50-year period in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Migrants from the area left to escape violence and economic hardship, and arrived in the American West to work in mines and railroads. They established flourishing Chinatowns throughout the region until many were forced to flee again by anti-Chinese violence and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Researchers at Cangdong village found a variety of Chinese ceramic bowls, some of which matched bowl types that have been found at railroad camp sites in the U.S. They also excavated British-made ceramic plates and American-made medicine bottles and clothing from the migration period.

Rose and other researchers have excavated sites where Chinese migrants lived and worked in Oregon and elsewhere in the U.S. West, but the areas from which they migrated had not been studied until Stanford initiated the international research effort. Stanford University was established with much of the wealth that Leland Stanford earned helping to oversee construction of the western half of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

A total of 27 archaeologists, anthropologists and others are listed as team members for the Cangdong Village Project. Participating institutions include SOU, Stanford, China’s Wuyi University, University of New Orleans, University of Massachusetts at Boston, San Francisco State University, Humboldt State University and Durham University.

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