Early life and education
Binford was born in Norfolk, Virginia on November 21, 1931. As a child he was interested in animals, and after finishing high school studied wildlife biology at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Previously a mediocre student, Binford excelled in college and considered pursuing an academic career in biology until he was put off the idea when a professor suggested that there were "still a few species of blind cave salamanders" that he could be the first to study. It was during his time in the military that Binford first became interested in anthropology and archaeology. After graduating he was drafted as an interpreter and assigned to a group of anthropologists tasked with resettling people on the Pacific islands occupied by the United States during World War II. He also became involved with the recovery of archaeological material from tombs on Okinawa that were to be removed to make way for a military base. Though he had no training in archaeology, Binford found himself excavating and identifying these artifacts, which were then used to restock the destroyed museum in Shuri.
After leaving the military Binford went to study anthropology at the University of North Carolina (UNC). The military subsidy he received was not enough to fund his study completely, so Binford used the skills in construction he learned from his father (a carpenter) to start a modest contracting business. He gained a second BA at UNC and then in 1957 transferred to the University of Michigan to complete a combined MA and PhD. His thesis was the interaction between Native Americans and the first English colonists in Virginia, a subject he became interested in while still at UNC.