University of Texas at Austin

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Time Travel: Stone Age ax to a giant leap

To mark the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Further Findings is highlighting ways The University of Texas at Austin and its people touched or were touched by the mission. Know of others? Let us know.

Michael Collins, Texas archeologist

Michael Collins, Texas archeologist

Michael Collins, an archeologist at The University of Texas at Austin, was a graduate student in archeology at the University of Arizona in 1969.

In July of that year, he was on a dig at the Tabun Cave in Israel, south of Haifa. Humans had lived at the site off and on for hundreds of thousands of years.

The director of the dig had a thing against radios and didn’t allow them at the site. He relented on July 21, however, to allow the archeologists to listen to the broadcast of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.

Collins was excavating a crudely made ax with one edge chipped off for cutting as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface and said, “A small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind.”

It struck him, Collins said, that here in his hands and on the radio was nearly the full spectrum of human technology—an elementary stone tool to a man walking on the moon.

“It’s amazing to me that so much happened in so short a time,” Collins said.

***

Same name, different place

If the name Michael Collins seems familiar in the context of Apollo 11, it should. He was the astronaut who orbited the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on it.

Michael Collins, the archeologist, tells this story:

The Aug. 11, 1969 cover of Newsweek

The Aug. 11, 1969 cover of Newsweek

Sometime after the Apollo 11 mission, Collins was riding in a car with two Jordanians who lived in Israel. They were mechanics and the three of them were driving to Collins’s Jeep, which had broken down.

Apollo 11 was all over the news. One of the mechanics, who was sitting behind Collins, was reading the international edition of Newsweek, which, Collins said, was filled cover-to-cover with stories and photos about the moon mission.

Tapping Collins on the shoulder, the mechanic said, “Excuse me, sir. Have you been on any long trips lately?”

Learn about Collins’s archeological research at Can You Dig It? Archeologist works to overturn long-held theory of when people first came to the Americas.

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