- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

DEADWOOD, S.D. (AP) - Buried beneath Deadwood for more than a century and now facing a numismatist’s nightmare known as “bronze disease,” 168 pieces of Chinese currency will soon be traveling to Maryland for a cure.

Uncovered in a series of archaeological investigations spanning 2001-2004, these remnants of Deadwood’s once-bustling Chinatown are a tangible reminder of the gold camp’s storied past, said Deadwood archivist Mike Runge, who participated in the digs.

“The Chinatown collection is about as close as you can get to Deadwood’s history,” Runge said. “These are objects associated with the town’s early history and were found in Deadwood through an archaeological investigation that covered four field seasons. Basically, there are photos of Deadwood’s history, but these are items that came right out of the ground in Deadwood. Someone left these items here or buried them.”

All told, 220 coins were uncovered, including pennies, half-dollars and a rare three-cent piece dating to the 1850s, Runge said. But, since seeing the light of day for the first time in decades, the 168 copper alloy Chinese coins with their distinctive square holes have been infected with bronze disease, a decomposition of copper bearing alloys caused by salts found in the ground. If left untreated, the coins would eventually disintegrate, Runge explained.

The Deadwood City Commission recently approved spending $4,400 to send the assemblage of Chinese coins to Maryland for a cure. As part of the project, the Maryland Department of Planning Conservation Laboratory will X-ray, remove corrosion, desalinate and apply corrosion inhibitors under vacuum, then cover each with a protective coating as part of the conservation treatment.

Eventually, the collection of Chinese coins will be placed on display in one of Deadwood History Inc.’s museums, said Deadwood historic preservation officer Kevin Kuchenbecker.

“We are stewards of this magnificent collection and we need to take measures to preserve and interpret what we have for future generations,” Kuchenbecker said. “This will help with future research and understanding of exactly what we have, how they have been used and the denominations of the coins. Untreated, they eventually would disintegrate.”

In addition to the coins, more than 250,000 objects were excavated in the archaeological investigation of Chinatown, according to Kuchenbecker. Those included five handguns currently being stabilized at the same Maryland lab, as well as bound shoes, bracelets, hair pieces, fabrics, leathers, hats, tableware, metal objects from pitchforks to a wheel of a mining cart, remnants of a horse-drawn buggy, construction items from Chinese and black boarding houses and even gold-crowned human teeth, Kuchenbecker said.

“If you think of everything you do during a day from waking up to going to bed, where you were, things you eat, things you throw away, in a 19th and early 20th century context - that constitutes the Chinatown collection,” Kuchenbecker said. “”Pioneers actually held these coins and used them. That’s what makes them so incredibly interesting.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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