As many of you may have already read in the GSAR Newsletter, Mike Collins has stepped down from his role of Chairman and Tim Brown has stepped in. For the November blog we thought we would hit some very brief highlights of Mike’s archaeological journey.
In 2006, Dr. Michael Collins started the nonprofit Gault School of Archaeological Research to continue the work he began on the Gault Archaeological Site and its vast collections and to do advanced research and outreach regarding the larger picture – the peopling of the Americas. In 2020, Dr. Collins announced his attention to step back from the day-to-day operations of the GSAR and his position as Chairman of the Board. At the annual meeting it was decided unanimously to make him Chairman Emeritus.
Mike has been involved in archaeology since he was 13 years old, growing up in Midland, Texas. He tells stories of being fascinated by the bones and artifacts that being exposed by the west Texas winds in the droughts of the 1950’s. His father Walter encouraged him in these interests and, at one point, purchased all of the back issues of the Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society for him.
He tried to start an archaeology club at his high school but was told that, since archaeology “wasn’t a real science”, they couldn’t. So he and his friends founded the Midland Archaeology Society that still exists today. In Midland Mike met Glen Evans who took him to the Scharbauer (Midland) site where he met Fred Wendorf, E.H. Sellards and other early Texas researchers. Glen became one of Mike’s lifetime friends and mentors. By the age of 17 Mike was a director of the Texas Archeology Society (TAS), the youngest in its history.
His love of archaeology and geology led him to the University of Texas where he received a BA and MA in Anthropology with a minor in geology. His Master’s thesis was done under the direction of Dr. Tom N. Campbell and he received help from well-known Texas archaeologists and geologists including Thomas Hester, Ken Brown, Vaughn Bryant, Ernie Lundelius, Mott Davis, Claud Bramblett, Dee Ann Story, and Harry Shafer. Mike went on to earn his doctorate at the University of Arizona and focused on lithic analysis. He had the opportunity to work with François Bordes and Don Crabtree, two of the pioneers in experimental flintknapping, and Bordes served as Mike’s mentor while he worked on his dissertation.
In 1971 Mike joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky and, in 1977, Director of UK’s Cultural Resource Management program. While at the university he joined the research team of Dr. Thomas Dillehay analyzing the lithic assemblage from Monte Verde, Chile. He not only embraced both professional and avocational archaeologists but continued to mentor students. Dr. Bruce Bradley tells a story of Mike as a graduate student in Arizona reaching out to undergraduates interested in flintknapping. Dr. Richard Boisvert recalls his time as a graduate student at Kentucky, along with Thomas Sanders and Boyce Driskill, working with and being mentored by Dr. Collins. Mike’s emphasis on education is why it is a major component of the GSAR’s mission statement and 14 MA theses, 6 dissertations and several honor’s theses have come out of the Gault collection alone.
In the 1980’s Mike returned to Texas eventually finding a home as a Research Associate at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at UT-Austin and as Associate Director from 1995-1999. He also served as President of the TAS in 1997 and co-directed two public field schools for the TAS.
In 1991 Mike began one of his greatest adventures working on the now-famous Gault Archaeological Site which resulted in finding some of the oldest dated art in the Americas, a possible mammoth kill site, the earliest excavated house in North America, 600,000 artifacts from the Clovis culture and 130,000 artifacts dating to between 16,000-20,000 years ago. In addition, he personally made sure that the site was protected by purchasing the land and donating it to the Archaeological Conservancy.
Mike is far from done and still takes an active role in the GSAR’s work. We could not, however, let his elevation to Chairman Emeritus go unrecognized along with his many other achievements. For many of us he is a model of what we hope to be as archaeologists and educators.