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Gray Fossil Site book released

Rex Barber • Jan 14, 2012 at 10:25 PM

If you ever wanted to know everything there is to know (so far) about the ancient finds at the Gray Fossil Site, look at a copy of “Gray Fossil Site: 10 Years of Research.”

Discovered in 2000 by Tennessee Department of Transportation workers widening Tenn. Highway 75 in Gray, the site has yielded numerous scientifically significant finds since East Tennessee State University took over the site and began excavating in 2001.

Since then many animal fossils have been found there, including the largest deposit of tapirs anywhere in the world, horses, beavers, a poisonous lizard, rhinos, various reptiles and new species of badger and red panda.

A few more fossils have been found since the book was published in 2011, but for the most comprehensive gathering of everything that East Tennessee State University paleontologists know about the ancient site, the book is the source, said Blaine Schubert, director of ETSU’s Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology and assistant professor of geosciences.

“And it has everything from the animals to the plants to what the animals were eating,” Schubert said. “So it’s a wide variety.”

The book even has a section about how the fossils, once removed from the site, are reassembled.

“So it’s not just the research, it’s what goes on in the museum in terms of the fossils,” Schubert said.

The book is a compilation of 21 research abstracts and a brief history of the site. The book came out of the 2010 Gray Fossil Site Symposium, where more than 70 people came to give or hear presentations on what knowledge the site had provided up until that point.

Because of the broad appeal of the fossil site and the constant requests for updates on what new information had become available from the public, Schubert said the book was compiled. The book was edited by Schubert and Jim I. Mead, chairman of the ETSU geosciences department.

“It was for anybody to be able to pick up and see why we thought it was a forest or a certain type of fossil,” Schubert said of the book. “It’s doing very well, actually. People are buying it and enjoying it. One day we’ll do another one.

“It’s a nice little volume for people who are traveling and want to know what we do.”

The site is unique, not only for researchers who now have a fertile site between 4.5 million and 7 million years old to excavate, but for the general public too, Schubert said.

He said there would be a much larger volume one day as the site is practically guaranteed to continue to yield fossils that add to the story of prehistoric Northeast Tennessee. In fact, that is probably the unifying theme of the book, Schubert said; that the discoveries are far from finished.

“I think one thing you can say about the fossil site is that even though we’ve found a tremendous amount, we’ve only scratched the surface,” Schubert said.

The book is for sale in the Gray Fossil Site Museum and Visitor Center gift shop for $12.

The fossil site and museum is located 1.8 miles from Exit 13 off Interstate 26 in Gray and is open daily from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Visit www.grayfossilmuseum.com or call the museum toll free at 866-202-6223.

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