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Second red panda skeleton uncovered at Gray Fossil Site

Rex Barber • May 25, 2012 at 10:30 PM

After six years, another red panda has been discovered at the Gray Fossil Site.

Steven Wallace, associate professor of geosciences and curator of the ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center, said other panda bones have been found at the site, but this is only the second skeleton to be discovered.

“Oddly enough this is becoming one of the more common animals here at the fossil site,” Wallace said. “We find bits and pieces of panda in almost every single excavation.”

Clearly visible in the jacket that was removed from the ground is the jawline of the panda’s skull and some limb bones. Wallace had on display a femur from the first red panda and a femur from this most recent discovery. The difference in size was marked, with the second being much larger.

Both panda fossils are of adults, though. So the difference in size could mean one is male and one female. Wallace stressed that is only speculation and more specimens must be found to know for sure.

The fossil was lifted from the ground in a jacket a few weeks ago and work is being done now to find other pieces of the creature. It appears as though many bones are in it.

Wallace said diggers were actually looking for a tortoise that was found a few years ago when the new panda specimen was found.

“And in the process of relocating that (tortoise) specimen, we found the hind foot of this new panda, but it was going under a large boulder and so we had to actually break apart the boulder before we could even start digging down, so it took several weeks,” Wallace said.

According to ETSU, this second panda is a member of the species Pristinailurus bristoli, which was first found at the Gray Fossil Site in 2004 and received international attention.

Wallace said the frequency with which panda bones and pieces of bones are being found at the sight suggests the creature played a large role in the overall ecosystem of the area.

“I think you can almost envision this as the raccoon of the day, you know, that it was filling that sort of omnivorous lifestyle, and there were probably a lot of them here,” Wallace said.

The ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site returns to a summer schedule on Memorial Day. The museum will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visitors can observe the fossil site excavation crew in action Monday through Friday during the summer season. Volunteer opportunities are also available. For more information, call 439-3659.

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