Noble Irish Ancestors and Filthy Mexican Invaders: The Uncomfortable Politics of the Archaeology of Undocumented Migration

Jason De León, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Weatherhead Resident Scholar, SAR

Colloquium, SAR Boardroom

Wednesday, January 29, 2014, 12:00–1:00 pm, Free

Jason De León and his son, IgnacioJason De León and his son, Ignacio2013–2014 Weatherhead Resident ScholarJason De León and his son, Ignacio2013–2014 Weatherhead Resident Scholar

In this presentation De León discusses some of the current controversies surrounding the deployment of archaeological methods and theories to understand clandestine border crossings between Mexico and the United States. Using a combination of narratives from interviews with migrants, five seasons of archaeological fieldwork, and results from recent taphonomic experiments (i.e., the study of the transition of organic remains from the biosphere to the lithosphere) focused on understanding what happens to the bodies of migrants, De León argues two interrelated points. First, archaeology is unmistakably a political endeavor and a close examination of how it figures into discussions of unauthorized border crossings highlights some of the tensions that exist among notions of “science”, archaeological inference, citizenship, heritage management, and political discourse. Second, in the context of border crossings and migrant death, taphonomy can be a useful theoretical lens for understanding how American political perspectives of undocumented Latinos shape the archaeological and burial record of this population.

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