Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Anthropology (MA)

Degree Level





William F. Limp

Committee Member

Kirsten C. Erickson

Second Committee Member

Justin M. Nolan


Social sciences, Immigration, Material culture, United States


Material culture is the aggregate of physical objects or artifacts used by or discarded by a past culture or society. Contemporary unauthorized migration at the U.S./México border has left thousands of pounds of migrant goods in what are referred to by United States Border Patrol as "lay-up sites". Since the late 1990's, undocumented migrants attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert of Arizona have been exposed to a distinctive set of material culture. This rapidly-evolving material culture is specific to the phenomenon of border-crossing, and it reflects and shapes the experience of migrants attempting the crossing. Migrants Stations, also known as lay-up sites, contain migrant materials that reflect the border crossing-experience for a group or for an individual. Consisting of the items that migrants carry, the material culture is defined as well by humanitarian aid groups, militia groups and United States Border Patrol. Artifacts may include water bottles, government-issued manacles, prepared food packets and features associated with gendered assault. Discussions about border-crossing have focused largely on migrant death and despair rather than migrant life. Media and academic attention has concentrated on the hundreds of migrants who die each year during desert border crossings, but little focus has been paid to the non-lethal harm and maltreatment that hundreds of thousands of people sustain annually. The migrant experience includes a great deal of corporeal suffering through harsh environmental conditions, profound physical stress, psychological terror, dehydration and malnutrition, and the specter of maltreatment at the hands of others. Using a combination of ethnographic, archaeological and geographical data, I argue that specific border crossing artifacts both reflect and shape a way of being that is specific to the migration process. Expanding upon the anthropological concept of State of Exception (Agamben:2005, 4-7), examining past and current border militarization, and spatial distribution of migrant material deposition, I demonstrate that migrant material culture provides evidence of a clandestine corporeal life of unauthorized migrants traveling through the desert to U.S. destinations.