Dating Techniques

In Jason De Leon’s research, he focused on a variety of topics such as migrant typology sites, use wear, and dating techniques. The typology of sites which De Leon focused on included, campsites, rest sites, pick up sites, religious shrines, and border staging areas. Campsites and rest sites were very similar as migrants can take a much-needed break from traveling at these sites. However, the campsites provide an area where migrants can meet up and rest overnight whereas the rest sites the migrants typically only stay briefly. Here, migrants are also able to consume some food to refuel their bodies for the treacherous hike. The religious shrines were the most interesting to study as migrants visit this space to leave offerings to wish for a safe journey from a higher power. While camp and rest sites provide physical refueling for the migrants, the religious shrines provide a mental refueling for migrants. These sites typically bring peace and hope for better travel. Pick up sites allow migrants to be picked up by smugglers and dump their belongings. Here, De Leon elaborates on how typical drug mules don’t leave much behind as they try to be as cautious as possible. Border staging areas provide migrants sleeping areas, more religious shrines, and clothes for migrants as they anticipate for the right time to cross the border. The journey for migrants is often difficult so this is a crucial stage for migrants as it often fills of reflection of their journey as well as prayer for a positive new start.

Wells, Michael (2014). “An alcove shrine near Lake Arivaca”. Photograph for Research Gate. Retrieved from
Wells, Michael (2015, October 23). “Memo and Lucho rest during the crossing. The bottom photos are of migrant campsites documented south of Green Valley, Arizona”. Photo for Land of Open Graves. Retrieved from

As for use wear, identifying physical evidence is difficult for archeologists due to it being biodegradable and difficult to track. For instance, vomit and blood would be absorbed by nature, other animals, or washed away. De Leon identified use wears in hopes of identifying some of the trauma such as pain. Use wear “refers to modifications to objects that occur when people use them in various ways”. This falls into two categories, wear patterns which is from wear and tear from intended tasks such as holes in shoes from walking long distances and extended wear; and modifications which include the changes that were made on an item to improve its functions or repair it such as taking another article of clothing to tie a shoe back together. This can be a difficult matter to study because some instances include finding children’s clothing such as a boot that wasn’t intended for such a treacherous hike with a heel falling off and many holes. Articles like such really put into perspective the pain that some migrant children must endure in search of a better life. 

UMP (2014). “Skeletonized human remains and worn-out shoes in Nogales–Sasabe corridor”. Photograph for Research Gate. Retrieved from

Dating techniques typically give scientists a greater understanding of the timeframe in which migrants are traveling. These techniques include absolute dating and relative dating. Absolute dating is often discovered through time-stamped documents such as bus tickets or expiration dates of food. This also allows the public to learn of the routes and have some clue to some of the other travel methods of migrants. Relative dating relies on the degradation of articles such as plastic bottles, meats, fruit, or other foods. One interesting finding of plastic bottles on the migrant trails is the fact that many of them are covered in black plastic bags in order to camouflage them. This has also resulted in companies manufacturing black water bottles to be more appealing to those desperate to making the journey across the border.

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