Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The 'living, breathing archaeology' of desert migrant trails

A few months ago I featured a short post on Jason De León, a University of Michigan anthropologist and archeologist who is studying the debris left behind by migrants in the Arizona desert. As part of his Undocumented Migrant Project, De León uses these cast-offs to tell the story of illegal immigration as human traffic moves across the border.

It's a fascinating project. Migrant trails are lined with the possessions of those who walked them, often discarded as people try to lighten their load. A few years ago along one trail in California's hostile Imperial Valley desert, while retracing the steps of a woman who died there, I saw cowboy boots, brand-new jeans with the tags attached, lingerie, all of it half-buried in the sand. What became of the people who owned them? It's impossible to know, but De León told NPR's All Things Considered this weekend that the items in the desert are "living, breathing archaeology."

He has found things like a blow dryer, high heels, hair curlers, jewelry, children's shoes. "A lot of times people don't know what to expect so they don't know how to pack for it or they want to bring their favorite things," De León said in the NPR interview. Here's the audio: