Changing anthropologists' ideas about America's earliest inhabitants
Dr. Michael B. Collins, Research Professor in Anthropology, codirects the world-renowned Gault archaeological site in Central Texas, where recent discoveries have changed most archaeologists’ thinking about America’s earliest inhabitants.
The Gault site is the largest Clovis period excavation, and Collins has been conducting work there since 1998. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of known Clovis artifacts have come from the Gault site, which covers an area the size of four football fields near Florence, TX. Until recently, Clovis technology was believed to represent the Americas’ earliest human inhabitants, who were thought to have arrived in the hemisphere from Asia by walking across the Bering Land Bridge between 11,000 B.C. – 8,500 B.C.
However, recent discoveries at Gault and elsewhere, of stone artifacts predating Clovis, have convinced most archaeologists that a culture existed in the Americas at least 500 to 1,000 years before Clovis, possibly arriving by boat.
The Gault project’s Clovis-era discoveries have changed archaeologists’ ideas about Clovis culture, as well. Whereas the people utilizing Clovis technology had been thought to be nomadic mammoth hunters, excavations at Gault show that they were established hunters and gatherers, like the cultures that spread across the continent a few thousand years later.
Collins began his lifelong interest in archaeology while growing up in Midland, TX during the record drought of the 1950s, when erosion exposed artifacts and bones that fascinated Collins. By age 13, he was a member of the Texas Archaeological Society (TAS), and by age 17 he was a TAS director. Later, in 1997, he served as TAS president and directed two TAS field schools. In 2011, he received the TAS Lifetime Achievement Award.
Collins obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in anthropology from The University of Texas at Austin, and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. He served on the faculty of the University of Kentucky, where he directed the university’s Cultural Resource Management program and conducted lithic analysis at the Chilean site of Monte Verde.
On his return to Texas, Collins served as Acting Director of the Museum of the Southwest in Midland and as research associate and associate director of the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory at UT-Austin. He joined Texas State in 2009.
After excavating at the Gault site for several years, Collins purchased the site in 2007, with his own money, and donated it to the Archaeological Conservancy to ensure its protection. He also created the Gault School of Archaeological Research, a nonprofit organization that pursues research and education regarding the peopling of the Americas.