Texas State archaeology professor
brings ancient culture to life
Michael Collins came of age during a period Texas author Elmer Kelton referred to as “the time it never rained.”
One of the worst droughts on record gripped much of the United States, including Collins’ hometown of Midland, in the 1950s. Lakes dried up. Unceasing heat desiccated the soil. Agricultural activity slowed to a crawl.
The West Texas winds did not slow down. They stole the dirt, carrying it by the ton for hundreds of miles in swirling, choking clouds. Collins remembers a horseman riding under a barbed-wire fence — and not being able to touch the bottom strand.
But while the drought and the winds were stealing topsoil from West Texas, they were giving Mike Collins a gift: archaeology.
He remembers walking out onto the erosion-ravaged landscape near Midland and finding bones of long-extinct animals like mastodons and mammoths, along with remnants of ancient horses, bison and camels. He discovered arrowheads and spear points and even what appeared to be tools, hacked from stone called chert, more commonly known as flint.
“I began to realize that these were records of a past you could learn about, just by studying the materials,” he says.
He made notes on what he found. By the time he was 13 years old, he was a member of the Texas Archeological Society. His father bought him back issues of the society’s bulletin, and he devoured them.
Many of the artifacts Collins found as a teenager were from a historical period called the Clovis Era, so named because evidence for it had first been researched in Clovis, N.M., less than 250 miles from Midland. At that time, the site was believed to be the oldest human habitation of the Americas, some 13,500 years old.
Now, Collins’ fascination, his passion, his life is summed up in steel on the tailgate of his Ford Expedition. One of his few indulgences is a personalized license plate: CLOVIS.
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