|Friends of the
Gray Fossil Site
Spring 2005 Newsletter
It's an exciting time to be a Friend of the Gray Fossil Site. The groundbreaking ceremony for the 45,000 square foot museum and visitors center took place in November of 2004, a professional fossil excavation company has come on board to assist ET5U, Dr. Wallace has been published in Nature, and the 2005 field season is set to start in April.
Celebrate Earth Day
Gray Fossil Site
April 22,d at 6:30pm
Representatives from ETSU and from Red
Feather Fossil Excavations will be on site to
discuss new findings and how you can be a
volunteer "excavator" at the site.
A Word from Wally... An update from Dr. Steven Wallace
As most of you already know, the TDOT Enhancement grant to build the museum also included money for workers at the site. The paperwork finally came through and Red Feather Fossil Excavations started working for us this last January. Jerry Jacene is the crew chief of this team of five, and we are very glad to have him on board. It is fantastic to finally have a crew working both in the field and at the lab, full time. Things should really start happening now!
In addition to overseeing the crew, Jerry is also spearheading the large scale introduction of volunteers into the day to day activities at the site & in the lab. Although he is primarily utilizing members of the Friends of the Gray Fossil Site, anyone is welcome. Interested parties should contact Jerry at: email@example.com .
Dr. Blaine Schubert is our other recent addition. Blaine is a Post-Doctoral Fellow who comes to us from the University of Arkansas and brings his expertise in Pleistocene cave paleontology. Among his specific research interests, Blaine has worked on shortfaced bears, so he is very interested in the material we have from Gray. Although our species is much smaller (and older) than the giant Pleistocene short-faced bear that he is used to working on, Blaine's background and experience with this unique group of bears will prove invaluable.
Planning for the museum is finally moving in leaps and bounds. The construction RFP went out in early March and bids will be opened around the 6th of April. On-site construction should begin a few weeks later, with the estimated time to completion around 16-18 months. Exhibit fabrication should start a few months prior to completion of the building and will continue for a month or two afterward. If all goes well, the museum should open in the spring or summer of 2007. Pictures and highlights of the museum are available on the web (www.etsu.edu/grayfossilsite), and updates should be posted within a few weeks.
All efforts were made to push the museum footprint off of the fossil deposit, unfortunately, a small portion of the building does overlap the site. For this reason, Jerry Jacene has had members of his crew digging in this area during breaks in the weather. The excavations have been very rapid and rough (more of a salvage), but time is running out. Fortunately, little has been uncovered in this area, but work will continue just to be sure. Now that the weather is finally breaking, all field work will focus on this area until construction starts on the museum.
Preparation continues on the rhino material recovered this last fall. Although there is still much to do, lab work should be mostly complete before the field season swings into gear (early April). In total, at least four individuals are represented within the "rhino pit". We have (1) several fetal bones, (2) the front limb of a large, adult individual, (3) the pelvis of another, and (4) a complete, sub-adult male. The recovered front limb appears to be part of a fairly complete skeleton and will be the primary target of this next field season (once we finish the museum footprint). If time permits, work will also
continue on the "baby", but the individual represented by the pelvis will likely wait until summer 2006 for excavation.
Blaine and I traveled to the Florida Museum of Natural History last month to work with Dr. Richard Hulbert. While Blaine focused on some cave material that he was working on, Richard and I focused on Gray's tapirs and rhinos (at least the material that was complete enough to study). Richard and I will be presenting the results of our analysis at the annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology later this year.
- Gearing up for the field season often requires building and/or repairing shelters. Therefore, anyone with construction/carpentry experience who is interested in volunteering is encouraged to apply.
- Also, anyone with clean five gallon buckets that they would like to donate to the site please contact Jerry Jacene (again, firstname.lastname@example.org ).
Groundbreaking for Visitors Center at Fossil Site
(An excerpt from the November 17th, 2004 edition of the Johnson City Press)
By Sam Watson
JCPress Education Writer
Funded by an $8 million federal transportation grant and about $2 million in matching funds garnered by ETSU, the visitors center will include a museum displaying finds from the site, as well as a research laboratory and storage space for the university's work.
With state lawmakers and other guests on hand, university officials officially broke ground on the project Tuesday (November 16th)
"A lot of people have sacrificed a lot of time and put a lot of effort into this," (Dr.) Wallace said. "It's been well worth it, though. This is just one step. We have two years to go to get this thing off the ground."
Please see diagrams from ETSU's web page,
How Can You Participate at the Site????
Richard Jackson, Friends VP
Although the active pits at the site have been closed and winterized since November, a considerable amount of work continues to be done both at the site and in the ETSU laboratories. As you can imagine, all work at the site has been very dependent on the weather. When weather permits the site of the new Visitor's Center (http://facult.etsu.edu/wallaces/gray/museumB.htm ) is a focus of attention. It is important to recover as many fossils as possible from this area before construction begins in April. Though the museum is on the edge of the quarry, a number of fossils are being recovered. After excavation, material is dry and wet screened on site and transported back to the paleontology laboratories on the ETSU campus for cleaning and analysis.
ETSU has recently contracted with a commercial company, Red Feather Fossil Excavations, to manage the excavation and fossil preparation work for the site. Dr. Wallace is still the overall site director but Red Feather is now doing daily task assignment and work direction. This means that Red Feather has responsibility for directing and coordinating some professional and all volunteer recovery work at the site and in the labs. Volunteers are both needed and welcome. In the labs, screened material is sorted and recovered fossils are cleaned and prepped. Work is done on an unpredictable basis at the site and includes wet and dry screening and excavation in the vicinity of the planned Visitor's Center. The site is scheduled to reopen in April. At that time most work at both the site and in the labs will become fairly predictable and will be routinely scheduled. In the meantime a general work plan that is being followed very roughly is shown in the following table.
Time Work Plan Monday AM 9:00-9:30 Staff meeting Jerry Jacene available after 9:30 Monday PM Lab and/or field (weather permitting) Tuesday AM Lab and/or field (weather permitting) Tuesday PM Lab and/or field (weather permitting) Wednesday AM Laboratory Wednesday PM Laboratory Thursday AM Lab and/or field (weather permitting) Thursday PM Lab and/or field (weather permitting) Friday AM Lab and/or field (weather permitting) Friday PM Lab and/or field (weather permitting)
Jeff Supplee directs most work in the laboratory and Jerry Jacene manages the fieldwork. They need some volunteer help but they also need some advance notice to prepare for workers.
If you are interested in working in the laboratory or on site please send an email to Dick Jackson (jackson4(&chartertn.net). Tell Dick when you can work and what you want to do. More information about working at the site will be made available at the next meeting. We will also discuss plans for education and training.
Wallace publishes article in Nature
on discovery of two new species
An excerpt rtom an article written by Joe Smith, Coordinator, University Relations
ET-SU Accent (October 4, 2004). Full article available at http://www.etsu.edu/grayfossilsite .
The Sept. 30, 2004, issue of the highly prestigious journal Nature introduces two new species never before recorded within the scientific literature. Both were found at the Gray Fossil Site in Washington County, Tenn.
According to Wallace, Pristinalurus bristoli - named after ETSU's Paleontology Coordinator Larry Bristol who discovered the first specimens of the new red (lesser) panda - is the earliest and most primitive panda so far recorded.
Wallace's rendering of what the
new red (lesser) panda might
have looked like.
This drawing by Wallace depicts
a type of advanced weasel
found at the Gray Fossil Site.
The other critter, Arctometes dimolodontus, is a type of weasel, specifically a badger, and is also of Eurasian origin. While the new red panda was a very primitive creature, Wallace says this particular weasel is highly derived and is one of the most advanced of its group.
Both discoveries also provide proof to the theory that animals were able to move between the continents of North America and Eurasia during the late Miocene to early Pliocene.
In addition to holding distinction as having the largest recorded finding of fossil tapirs, the Gray site is also significant because it fills in an important gap in history.
"Before the discovery of the site, there were a lot of blanks in the fossil records pertaining to this area. Now we can now start filling in some of those pages. "
Wallace adds that the Gray Fossil Site is also unique to any other similar-aged site in the United States because it records a forest ecosystem. Most other sites record open plains environments similar to the Great Plains or they have a coastal influence, like those found along the Gulf Coast and Florida.
First Ever Friends Grant Awarded
At our Winter Meeting in December, the Friends awarded a $500 grant to Debra Phillips. Dr. Phillips is working on an X-Ray Fluorescence analysis of soils and the grant was used to pay for the analysis of 14 soil and sediment samples. As part of the grant, Dr. Phillips will write an article for our newsletter with her results. Currently, Dr. Phillips is serving as an Environmental Agency Lecturer at Queen's University of Belfast, Ireland. Good Luck and we look forward to reading about your studies.
New Officers Elected
Also at our Winter Meeting, officers and directors were elected. Thanks to Steve Wilson for serving as President for the last several years. Our group couldn't continue to exist if not for the hard work of the following volunteers.
President Lydia Sinemus (email@example.com)
Vice President DickJackson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Secretary Collins Chew
Treasurer Marta Adams
Directors Steve Wilson, Charles Bartlett, Bob Whittemore, Anne Whittemore
Web Page Martin Kohl
Fund Raising Ideas
We would like to be able to offer more grants and a variety of programs in the future. To do this, we need funds. A fund raising idea is to sell engraved bricks for a walk-way or wall at the museum / visitor's center. Keep watching your newsletters for upcoming information on this prqject.
Tapir skull and tracks, photo Dr. Wallace
Want to stay up-to-date on what's happening at the site,
coordinate opportunities to volunteer/work at the site, and
support the scientific efforts at the Gray Site...
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