Gray Fossil Site

This past week I started volunteering in the fossil preparation lab at the Gray Fossil Site in Gray, Tennessee. The site has a similar history to that of The Mammoth Site; the Gray Fossil Site was discovered in 2000 when construction crews were working on a road project near Daniel Boone High School in Gray, Tennessee. Scientists and construction workers alike quickly realized that this was a major paleontological find. In 2007, the Natural History Museum, operated by East Tennessee State University, opened to the public.

Front of the Gray Fossil Museum on the grand opening weekend (by PaleoClipper)

The site itself is remarkable. It is between 4.5 and 7 million years old from the Neogene period and is one of only a handful of sites of that age in the eastern United States. It was once a sinkhole pond that supported many species of plants, vertebrates and invertebrates. The fossils left behind by these organisms tell us a lot about what the environment was like during that time. The Gray Fossil Site has the world’s largest record of fossil tapirs (large, stout browsing mammals with prehensile snouts that are now only found in Central and South America and Southeast Asia), as well the second North American record of the red panda (the first was in Washington) and a new species of herbivorous badger.

The museum is full of interactive exhibits about the history of the site. Be sure to check out the telephones with news, traffic, and weather reports from the history of the Gray Fossil Site! The main floor also includes a temporary exhibit hall with traveling exhibits such as ‘Hatching the Past’ about dinosaur eggs and babies that wrapped up on June 1st.

A hand holding a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) shell from the Gray fossil site (by Robert W Williams)

The second floor is home to the preparation lab where visitors can look through the windows to see what the volunteer preparators are doing. Preparators could be working on anything from picking through screenwash to glueing together fossil turtle shells. Outside, visitors can wander along the walkway overlooking the dig site. I would recommend going on one of the guided tours to get a more detailed explanation of the exhibits, prep lab and dig site.

For more information about exhibits, admission prices and museum hours, check out their website below.

Natural History Museum


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