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Longtime South Texas Archaeologist, 82, Honored for Efforts

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    Longtime South Texas Archaeologist, 82, Honored for Efforts

    A light breeze flowed through a small area roped off on a ranch that, at one time, might have been where indigenous people worked on tools and weapons.

    The Victoria Advocate reports hunched over on his knees and using a trowel he created himself, Bill Birmingham scraped the dirt off a small area and uncovered a dark and solid object. He brushed off some of the extra dirt and picked the object up to study his discovery.

    "You have to treat everything like it's an artifact because you never know what you'll find," Birmingham, 82, said.

    For almost every Friday since 2003, Birmingham and a team of archaeologists have excavated at a ranch in Nursery in search of Paleo objects that tell the early history of the area. Birmingham has spent most of his days doing what he enjoys - being in the dirt, looking for signs of history.

    And for his dedication to the preservation and protection of history, Birmingham was awarded the Curtis D. Tunnell Lifetime Achievement Award in Archaeology on March 26 at the Museum of the Coastal Bend in Victoria.

    He was nominated for the award by the museum.

    "For most of his life, Bill has been active in preserving Texas history through archaeology. He has a passion for collecting, but more importantly he has educated himself and others about responsible, scientific collecting practices to ensure that artifacts are gathered in a way that makes them valuable for research," said Sue Prudhomme, the executive director of cultural affairs at the Museum of the Coastal Bend. "Numerous articles and papers have been generated from his research, expanding the scholarly body of knowledge about the prehistoric people of Texas and how they lived. We were honored to nominate Bill for this prestigious award, and it is well-deserved."

    The longtime archaeologist has been interested in the field since he was a child. He made his first discovery when was about 10 years old while camping as a Boy Scout.

    "We were at camp; we would run around and find arrowheads, so that's where it all truly started for me," Birmingham said with a chuckle.

    Birmingham worked for DuPont for 34 years. He has participated in several excavations throughout the state, including Blue Bayou site, a cemetery in the Victoria area; a Burris Bison Site; the La Belle Shipwreck; and Mission Espiritu Santo site.

    At the Burris Bison site, Birmingham and the team he worked with found a bison butchering station, where scrappers, knives and arrowheads were found, as well as a bison jaw and bones.

    "We found that they (the indigenous people) were eating pretty good in that area," he said.

    In addition to bones, knives, arrowheads and tools, Birmingham has also found pottery during excavations. At one site, for a span of almost 30 years, Birmingham has found the pieces of a pot and put the object together, which can now be found at the Museum of the Coastal Bend.

    Out on the west side of the state, Birmingham also worked at Baker Cave near Del Rio, where items such as leaves, sandals and bones were found preserved.

    "We found beautiful material in that cave - that was really an experience there," he said.

    The artifacts Birmingham has found in excavations are up to 10,500 years old, he said. Most of the artifacts, or Paleo points, Birmingham has found are general tools early inhabitants used to make weapons for hunting.

    Those objects are all turned over to museums, universities or the Texas Historical Commission for research.

    Pat Mercado-Allinger, the archaeology division director at the Texas Historical Commission, said the museum's nomination of Birmingham was "so compelling" and stood out.

    "He is very well-known in archaeology throughout the state, and many owe a debt of gratitude to Bill," Mercado-Allinger said. "Anyone who has worked with him only has good things to say about him."

    In addition to archaeology, Birmingham also enjoys creating custom trowels and jewelry. He's created deer antler trowels with turquoise and would donate them for silent-auction bidding at the annual meeting for the Texas Archaeological Society.

    Birmingham uses his own custom-made trowels, and he'll also make woodworking. With some of his fossil finds, such as arrowheads, he'll cast the item in silver or gold for jewelry or as an ornament.

    "Curiosity is what got me started on almost anything -- it tells me to do it," he said.

    Birmingham said he appreciates the Museum of the Coastal Bend nominating him for the award as well as the Texas Historical Commission for giving him the recognition.

    Despite the lifetime achievement award, he said he isn't done yet. Birmingham plans to continue to work to find more artifacts in the Victoria area.

    "I do enjoy it, and it's the early history of this area. If we don't preserve it, it will get lost," Birmingham said.

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