Jason De León


Ph.D., Anthropology, Penn State University, 2008

M.A.. Anthropology, Penn State University, 2004

B.A., Anthropology, UCLA, 2001

Areas of Interest

Undocumented Migration, Violence, Materiality, taphonomy and site
formation processes, archaeology of the contemporary, forensic
science, photoethnography, Latin America, US/Mexico border


I am an anthropologist whose research interests include theories of violence, materiality, Latin American migration, photoethnography, forensic science, and archaeology of the contemporary. I direct the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), a long-term study of clandestine border crossing that uses a combination of archaeological, ethnographic, visual, and forensic approaches to understand this phenomenon in a variety of geographic contexts including the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona, Northern Mexican border towns, and the southern Mexico/Guatemala border. I am working on book manuscript tentatively titled "Soldiers and Kings" that uses the lens of photoethnography to examine the daily lives of Honduran smugglers moving migrants across Mexico.


In Press           J. De León

“Como Me Duele”: Central American Bodies and the Moral Economy of Undocumented Migration. Paper prepared for The Border and Its Bodies: The Corporeality of Risk in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands, edited by T. Sheridan and R. McGuire. University of Arizona Press.

2018                    J. De León

The Photoethnographic Eye: Visualizing the Honduran Migrant Experience in Mexico.  In Out of Bounds: Photography and Migration, edited by T. Sheehan, Routledge Press.

2015                J. De León

The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Sonoran Desert Migrant Trail. University of California Press, Berkeley.

2014                J. Beck, I. Ostericher, G. Sollish, and J. De León

Scavenging Behavior in the Sonora Desert and Implications for Documenting Border Crosser Fatalities. Journal of Forensic Sciences 60:S11-S20.

2013                J. De León

Undocumented Migration, Use-Wear, and the Materiality of Habitual Suffering in the Sonoran Desert. Journal of Material Culture 18(4):1-32.

2012                J. De León

“Better To Be Hot Than Caught”: Excavating the Conflicting Roles of Migrant Material Culture. American Anthropologist 114(3):477-495.

2009                J. De León

Rethinking the Organization of Aztec Salt Production: A Domestic Perspective. Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 19(1): 45-57.

2009                J. De León, K. Hirth and D. Carballo

Exploring Formative Period Obsidian Blade Trade: Three Distribution Models. Ancient Mesoamerica 20:113-128.


  • 2018, J.I. Staley Book Prize, School for Advanced Research.
  • 2018, Outstanding Research Mentor, Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program Award. University of Michigan.
  • 2017-2022       MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. 
  • 2017, Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharf Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America. Society for the Anthropology of North America.
  • 2017, Individual Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education in Race & Ethnicity Instruction. College of Literature, Arts, and Sciences, University of Michigan.
  • 2017                Class of 1923 Memorial Teaching Award.  College of Literature, Arts, and Sciences, University of Michigan.
  • 2016, Margaret Mead Award. American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology.
  • 2016, Book Prize.The Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology, American Anthropological Association.  
  • 2016, “Documenting the Dead: Border Politics and the Forensic Work Behind Identifying Migrant and Refugee Bodies.” New Directions Fellowship, Mellon Foundation.
  • 2016, Honorable Mention. Association of Latina and Latino Anthropologists Book Award, American Anthropological Association.   
  • 2015, Artista Latina Award for the State of Exception Exhibit, ArtPrize, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  
  • 2013, Weatherhead Fellowship, School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  • 2013, Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship (declined).
  • 2013, Emerging Explorer Award. National Geographic Society.
  • 2013, Rackham Spring/Summer Research Grant. University of Michigan.
  • 2010, Allen Foundation American Music Partnership of Seattle Grant: Development Grant for “Anthropology of Rock and Roll” Course (declined).
  • 2009, National Science Foundation (Cultural Anthropology Division) RAPID Grant:
  • Migrant Material Culture Project:An Ethnographic and Ethnoarchaeological Analysis of
  • Undocumented Migration in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico.
  • 2009, University of Washington Royalty Research Fund Grant: Migrant Material Culture
  • Project-An Ethnographic and Ethnoarchaeological Analysis of Undocumented
  • Migration in Southern Arizona.