Snapshots

‘Living, Breathing Archaeology’ In The Arizona Desert : NPR

If you walk through the desert in southern Arizona you can find evidence of a major migration. Water bottles, shoes, food wrappers — these are some of the things left behind by the thousands of people who try to cross the border between Mexico and the United States every year. For some people, the items are trash to be cleaned up; for others, they offer a window into a perilous voyage.

Combing The Desert

In 2008, Jason De Leon began documenting and analyzing what migrants leave in the desert for a research project. An assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and trained archaeologist, De Leon sees the sun-bleached backpacks as artifacts that tell a larger story.

Anthropology professor Jason De Leon says migrants often leave items like backpacks behind in an effort to blend in once they make it to a bigger road or small town.

Michael Wells

Anthropology professor Jason De Leon says migrants often leave items like backpacks behind in an effort to blend in once they make it to a bigger road or small town.

On a sunny day in February, De Leon parks his car and walks off a road north of Nogales, Ariz., into the cacti. He points out a blue backpack in the distance and a scrap of clothing on the ground. He says these are rest sites for migrants, places used to sleep, eat and change clothes.

“You know a lot of these sites are in the shade because people are trying to rest in the middle of the day and also try[ing] to hide,” he says.

De Leon pulls open a zipper on a bag and pulls out matches from Chiapas, Mexico; cortisone cream; and cigarettes.

For him, these scraps are important. This place is important. He says one day it will be seen as sacred ground.

A few miles away there are at least 50 backpacks and as many water bottles scattered among the small trees. A bright green Army bag stands out. De Leon says migrants often leave items behind in an effort to blend in once they make it to a bigger road or small town.

FULL ARTICLE: ‘Living, Breathing Archaeology’ In The Arizona Desert : NPR.

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