As archaeologists grapple with the international curation crisis, new attention is being given to the problem of ‘orphaned’ archaeological collections and collections that are underanalysed and underreported. The common rationale for curating such collections is to restore research potential, but such efforts are met with frustration because of the difficulties of re-establishing provenance and quantitative control for artefacts long separated from their original archaeological context. Moreover, most archaeologists view curation as a process that manages, rather than investigates, archaeological collections. To the contrary, this article argues that accessioning, inventory, cataloguing, rehousing and conservation are not simply precursors to research, but rather meaningful generative encounters between scholars and objects. Examples from the curation of the Market Street Chinatown archaeological collection illustrate how the process of curation can generate innovative research undertakings. Because archaeological research on this collection cannot proceed in a typical way, the research developed through the curation process departs from archaeological conventions to bring new perspectives on the social history of the Overseas Chinese diaspora.