Borderlands Archaeology

A few days ago I came across some images posted by one of the right-wing vigilante border patrol groups of the trash that is left behind by people crossing the US/Mexico border.  This is just one of the many perceived affronts by what many people consider an invading force–their own ancestry be damned.

When I was still working as a contract archaeologist, I was on a couple of surveys near the border in Laredo and Brownsville, and I found a few of these items, left behind by people on the run, trying to figure out what they actually need and what could be discarded.  Toothbrushes.  Toys.  Socks.  Bibles.

Now that our esteemed government is planning to build a folly of a wall along the border, there is undoubtedly archaeological work associated with the project.  I’ve been talking about doing some contemporary archaeology at the border for a long time now, a project that would probably not get past the Human Subjects Review process, in that it would endanger illegal immigrants by making their paths known to would-be border-enforcers.  But, still–understanding the process of crossing the border better could help us to know what people need for the journey, and hopefully fewer of the immigrants would die in the process.

I was holding off on posting about it, but these images just broke Fox News where they are titled, “ALIEN TRASH” together with a sensationalist story about this trash costing taxpayers “millions” to clean up.  My hope, albeit a faint one, is that this story ultimately produces empathy in people instead of perceiving it, as it is stated in the news story as a “national disaster of our cherished outdoor areas.”  What do you carry on and what do you leave behind?

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

3 thoughts on “Borderlands Archaeology”

  1. If you recall, we also found contemporary hearths, where a few rocks had been used to line the fire and a coffee can was set in the center.
    Also, this person has been working on the archaeological survey for the border fence in Texas:

    although I don’t think they’ve written about it much lately.

  2. I am doing archaeology on the border fence. I cant speak in any kind of official fashion, obviously, but if you want to email about it I can do that. Let me know…


  3. That’s a fascinating idea. Doing material sociology/ethnography or better contemporary archaeology in these border-situations would be really good. One could test lots of what we as archaeologists normally assume as the right way to approachs things. One could also do something like `blind tests´, by later interviewing border-crossers on their decision making. Of course, it is also a very sad fact that this situation with these immigrants exist at all. Perhaps a research program like this would help the authorities or ngo’s or anyone else to alleviate their situation somewhat. Maybe Bird has some ideas on that.
    Good luck with your examinations, though!

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