The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

The human in what remains: Reflections of Dr. Karen Ramey Burns


School of Anthropology, University of Arizona

Saturday Morning, 301D Add to calendar

My first question to Karen following her presentation at the University of Tennessee nearly ten years ago was, “Where do you find the inspiration to do this?” Without so much as a thought while packing up her things, she said, “El Pueblo”(The People). My silence must have spoken volumes. So began a mentorship that has lasted ever since. Although I never took a course from her nor worked directly with her, through her work and in the words she spoke in many communications throughout the years, Karen taught me the most fundamental principles of anthropology that have guided my work along our Southern Border with Mexico. This work revolves around the countless people who have come to be called “Unknown Border Crossers” (UBCs). Karen taught me that we must never place people’s humanity behind a case number. She taught me that any real anthropologist, regardless of their sub-discipline or specialization, must always proceed with that in mind. As anthropologists, our discipline demands that we focus on the human in what remains.

My work in Arizona consisted of interviewing Law Enforcement Officials and the staff at Medical Examiner’s offices along the entire border to ascertain best practices for dealing with the remains of people who have come to die while migrating through our borderlands. In the spirit of Dr. Karen Ramey Burns, it is my hope that this work not only helps identify the decedents, but also helps us all remember to keep the human in what remains.

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