Dr. Magda Mankel, M.A.A. ’16, Ph.D. ’21, of the Department of Anthropology focuses her research on cultural heritage. This summer, she spent five weeks living and working in Ruby, Ariz., a mining town that was abandoned in the 1940s, and also studied the neighboring town of Arivaca.

Ruby is privately owned and attracts tourists and campers who are eager to experience the rugged beauty of the area, located about 10 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. During her stay, Mankel worked with students and colleagues on the Ruby Archaeological Project (RAP), coordinated by the Institute for Field Research and led by Dr. Haeden Stewart of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“The RAP is using historical archaeology to understand the relationships between Mexican immigrant labor, the American mining industry, and the ever-evolving Sonoran Desert landscape,” Mankel said. “One long-term goal of RAP is to bring historical immigrant labor narratives in conversation with contemporary discourses on human migration so as to create a more complex understanding of how border politics and migration patterns impact the natural and cultural environment.”

Mankel and the RAP team focused on excavating terraces where Mexican laborers lived in makeshift, tent housing. They searched for remnants of objects that had been discarded or left behind.

“We ended up finding a significant amount of domestic wares, such as cutlery, as well as buttons and children’s toys,” Mankel said.

While excavating privy units, they found a significant amount of tin cans, bottles, faunal remains, an iron, and car parts.

Mankel said all of these “amazing finds”—once analyzed—will reveal significant aspects of the daily lives of individuals who once inhabited Ruby.

“For me, the most interesting find was realizing that Ruby and the areas near it are still heavily trafficked by border patrol agents and immigrants seeking entry into the United States through clandestine means,” Mankel said. “I came into Ruby thinking it was a ghost town; I left knowing it was just one of many places that are part of a global migratory highway. It is speculated that the recent extension of the border wall during the Trump Administration has created an even narrower funnel through which migrants can cross.”

Ruby, ArizonaIn addition to her academic work at UMD, Mankel serves as the education and research specialist for the Border Community Alliance, a nonprofit based in Tubac, Ariz., that is dedicated to bridging the border between the United States and Mexico through collaborative, educational, and cultural cross-border programs in Nogales, Sonora and southern Arizona. Mankel’s duties in this role entail a variety of tasks that include working closely with staff to coordinate and evaluate programs, write grants, lead tours, and coordinate the summer internship. 

Mankel said she was first drawn to the field of anthropology because it combined all of her favorite topics, including cultural studies, history and immigration studies.

“What I’ve always appreciated about anthropology is its capacity to holistically tackle complex, social topics through a variety of lenses that allow the research to mix and match a variety of interests. It’s a kaleidoscope of color and geometric shapes,” Mankel said.

Mankel is currently turning her dissertation into a book, and is in the process of applying to writing fellowships and postdocs positions.

“And although my current work has me working with nonprofits in southern Arizona, I would eventually like to get back into teaching and research within a university environment. I would also really like to work with a national heritage agency, such as the National Park Service,” Mankel said.

When asked to offer advice to current and prospective students in the Department of Anthropology, Mankel urged them to “to be engaged and embrace the chaos created by humanity, but be ethical and mindful about the way you go about it.”

Photo of Dr. Mankel and of Ruby, Ariz., courtesy of Dr. Mankel.