Even though her career as a news reporter and producer required Olive Talley to stay on top of major news in Texas and the Southwest, she had never heard of the Gault archeological site—located only 160 miles from her Dallas home—when she traveled to Antarctica on a 2017 National Geographic expedition.
“During that trip, I was listening to a presentation by photographer Ken Garrett about the peopling of the Americas. He showed a map of Texas with a red star in the middle of the state, identifying Gault. Then he said, ‘When the boys in Texas started finding artifacts older than Clovis at this particular site, heads started turning!’”
Intrigued, Talley peppered the photographer with questions, trying to learn as much as she could about Gault. Finally, she remembered Garrett saying, “Olive, call Mike!” He was referring to Dr. Michael Collins, the archeologist who was the driving force behind the study, excavation, and research at Gault, now recognized as one of the most significant archeology deposits in the Western Hemisphere. When Talley returned to Texas, she got in touch with Collins. The phone call lasted four hours.
“I was immediately impressed with Mike’s depth of knowledge, of course, but also with his commitment to preserve this site for the future.” She also learned of the challenges Collins faced at Gault—often confronting doubts from his own peers. Talley discovered that as archeologists were uncovering artifacts from the Central Texas site, they were also exposing new theories about the settlement of the New World—and not everyone in the archeological community was on board. Collins, though, remained steadfast.
The Texas archeologist invited Talley to spend time with him at Gault. As she prepared for the meeting, the filmmaker didn’t have a documentary in mind, but she did believe the information could be the basis for an interesting article. After a three-day visit with Collins at the Bell County site, however, Talley’s thinking changed.
When she shared what she had learned with others, colleagues encouraged her to make a film. “While I appreciated their emotional support, documentaries take money. I would need to hire a team, travel, shoot footage, search archives, and conduct interviews.” Talley had never fundraised before, and that task alone was immense. “At the time, I began to feel as though my experiences were paralleling the ones Mike had taken on.” In one year, though, based on the strength of the story, Talley was able to raise the money necessary for production, including a grant from the Texas Historical Foundation (THF).
“I launched the project in late February 2020, just as the Covid pandemic was beginning.” Undeterred, Talley shot footage outside at Gault and at a safe distance. Two-and-a-half years later, the documentarian is finished with the research phase and will soon begin writing the script and organizing the accumulated media. Once she and her editor complete a rough cut of the film, she will explore distribution options, including public broadcasting, film festivals, and streaming services.
When asked about her time with Dr. Collins, Talley reflected: “He has a deep devotion to education, teaching, and learning. He loves igniting curiosity and passion in others and is quick to recognize when someone is interested in archeology—then he fuels that fascination.”
A short excerpt of Talley’s documentary will be shown at a THF-hosted tribute event honoring Dr. Collins and his significant contributions to archeology on October 28 in Georgetown (see this link to become a sponsor or purchase tickets).
According to Sylvia Tillotson, THF President, “Gault is a modern-day epic of perseverance and conviction. Dr. Collins’ vision has changed the historical record, and THF is proud to be a small part of this important work.” In addition to providing a grant for the documentary, the Foundation was an early financial supporter of work at Gault.
The film’s website is www.gaultfilm.com.