Friends  of  Gray

  Fossil Site


March 2004 Newsletter                                                        Vol. 3, No. I


President:            Steve Wilson: 423-239-0456             Directors: Charles Bartlett,
V. President:       Brenda Calloway -245-7468             Martin Kohl, Lydia Sinemus,
Secretary:           V. Collins Chew     239-6237            Anne Whitttemore, R. E. Whittemore
 Treasurer:           Marta Adams 865-397-0350            Typist: Wilma Boy

Inside this newsletter you will find information about:

Page 1.    Field Work at the Gray Fossil Site
Page 2.    The Tooth of Red Panda
Page 3.    Treasurer's Report
Page 3.    Jewelry for Sale
Page 4.    Fossils
Page 6.    Related Courses Offered at ETSU
Page 6.    Membership Form


Field Work at the Gray Fossil Site
by Anne Whittemore

Ground breaking for the visitor's center at the site is expected to begin Spring 2005; projected opening is for Fall 2006.

Another core drilling will be conducted in Spring 2004 by SME.

The ground water (or water table) at the Site is at six inches.  This means that no deep pits can be dug.  Once a hole is dug, it fills up with water.

Page 2 of 6            Friends of Gray Fossil Site News              March 2004

The dark-colored material is approximately 140 feet thick.  The potential fossil-bearing material is about 68 million cubic feet.

Formation of Site: Experts are leaning more toward steep-walled sinkhole (cenote) with pond.  Water is always attractive to animals for it is there they socialize, took for prey, defecate, and cool off.  For most, it is a place of refuge from predators or when sick.

Importance of site: (a) Complete ecosystem (b) Fills Appalachian gap in the fossil record (c) High potential for new species (d) Largest wooded Miocene site.

List of animals to date.  Teleoceras (pot-bellied rhino), dwarf-sized tapir, shovel-tusked elephant, fish, several sizes frog, salamander, painted and slider turtles, alligator (big guy), snake, shrew/vole, peccary, fox dog, mountain lion-sized cat, saber-toothed cat, dwarf bear with stubby nose (short-faced bear), deer, weasel (two sizes), lesser red panda.  From its tooth, the deer was the size of an elk.  One wonders about an animal with camel affinities or possibly a paleo-llama ... Time will tell.

By Anne Whittemore

Discovered by Larry Bristol on January 31, 2004, the tooth is the first of its species found on our continent.Another red panda tooth (of a different species) was found in 1977 in Washington state, and reported in an article in Nature magazine.

Although still living in small numbers in high forested terrain (such as the Himalayas) with records of red pandas in Europe and China, most of us only know this animal from zoos.  In fact, there are more red pandas at the Knoxville, Tennessee, zoo than in any other zoo in the Western Hemisphere.

So what is a red panda?  The lesser or red panda is a medium-sized, bear-like mammal related to the Giant Panda, but reminding one of a raccoon.  It has a thick rusty to deep chestnut-colored coat.The muzzle, eye patches, and the fronts of its large-pointed ears are white and there are broad white cheek patches. The tail is long and bushy with broad brown and ginger-colored rings.

Page 3 of 6                        Friends of Gray Fossil Site News                                      March 2004

Marta Adams

                        From the Officers and Board of Directors


Anne Whittemore

Exquisite sterling silver jewelry was made by Friends member Tony Underwood, and donated to the Friends to help with fundraising.

Friends members may purchase these at cost, plus $1.00 for shipping each item.  Contact Anne Whittemore, 208 Mark Drive, Gray, TN 37615 (423-477-2235) Or e-mail at: LAWhittemore@aol com

CHARMS: Singles of elephant or rhinoceros................. $ 4.50 each

NECKLACE: Elephant or rhino, 16" silver chain.............. 7.50 each

PENDANTS AND PINS: Alligator.................................. 8.00 each

Page 4 of 6                     Friends of Gray Fossil Site News                         March 2004

Brenda Calloway

Fossils have intrigued humankind for generations.  They are like windows to the past, or snapshots of prehistory.  Every fossil fragment has a story to tell.  The word 'fossil" (a derivative of the French word fossus, meaning to dig, and the Latin word fossilis, meaning dug up), originally referred to anything that had been buried.  Today, the word refers to the naturally buried (and fortuitously preserved) remains of organisms that lived on earth long before historic times.

Some early people thought fossils were placed in rocks by a celestial influence.  Others thought they were creations of Mother Nature in a playful mood.  The ancient Greek philosophers regarded fossils as rather strange, natural phenomena that formed in the earth in a way similar to stalactites or crystals.  During the Middle Ages, fossil theories included the idea that fossils grew in rocks, were discarded creations, or were tricks of satan to deceive humans about the true history of the world.

When placed in their proper order, fossils piece together a nearly complete historical account of life on earth.  Generally, hard skeletal remains such as bones, teeth, or shells, dominate the record of past life and are well represented.  However, organisms With soft body parts such as frogs, fish or snakes are poorly represented or not represented at all.  Fossils of birds are extremely rare.

Nature recycles things almost perfectly.  Therefore, nearly all organisms, dead or alive, eventually becomes food or nutrients for another living thing (organism).  Even very tough parts such as teeth and wood eventually crumble.  Fossils are only made if the process of eating, rotting and recycling are interrupted, and they rarely are.  It usually happens only in conditions preventing or allowing little decay.  Then gradually, over a long period of time, the organism's remains change into fossils.

Fossils are formed in a variety of ways under many different environmental conditions.  In rare conditions, the complete organism is preserved.  For the most part, fossils are extensively altered so that little of the original material remains.  Organisms must be buried rapidly to escape destruction by the elements and be protected against weathering and erosion.

For fossilization to occur, rapid burial, usually by water-borne sediment, is required.  Weathering and erosion on land and sea produce large quantities of sediment, which usually is laid down in strata (layers), Over millions of years, these deposits harden into rock.  Thus fossils are the remains of long-dead plants and animals that have escaped the rotting process and have, after many years, become part of the earth's crust.

Due to the fact that the surface of the earth both above and below the sea is covered by a thin layer of sediment, sedimentary rocks are encountered more frequently than any other rock type.  Fossils can be found in most sedimentary rocks, especially sandstone, limestone and shale.  Quarries are ideal places to find fossils.  Old lake beds and swamps are often extremely rich in fossil remains.

Page 5 of 6                  Friends of Gray Fossil Site News                        March 2004

Only the hardest parts of organisms - bones, claws, teeth, scales, horns, shells, seeds, and wood - stay intact long enough for fossilization to occur.  These are called “true” fossils.  Other evidence left behind by these organisms are called "trace” fossils.  These include: 1) Coprolites, or fossilized droppings - usually black or brown in color and nodular, tubular or pellet-shaped.  The shapes indicate the type of food eaten, and the size and shape of the animal’s guts. 2) Burrows, holes, and tunnels; 3) Footprints, paw marks, claw scrapes, and tail drags left in soft soil, sand or mud - many animals are known only by their tracks; 4) Nests, eggs, egg cases, and similar objects. 

Geology is the general name for the study of the earth and its life especially as recorded in rocks.  The first person to measure the age of rocks was an English engineer, William Smith, in the eighteenth century.  Specialists in this scientific field are called geologists.

Paleontology is a branch of geology dealing with the study of ancient life based on fossils.  The founder of paleontology, George Cuvier, was the first person to make systematic studies comparing the remains of extinct animals (fossils) with the structure of existing (living) species.  By studying rocks and fossils, geologists and paleontologists have built up a fairly accurate history of the earth based on the Geological Time Scale.

“Living fossil” is a term referring to a living species that has survived over long periods of geologic time to the present day.  At the Gray Fossil Site, many living fossils are found.  The three chief reptile groups today are: 1) turtles and tortoises, or chelonians; 2) lizards and snakes, or squanamates; 3) crocodiles and alligators, or crocodilians.  All have a long fossil history, having changed little in over 200 million years.  Hoofed mammals, called ungulates, evolved rapidly when grasses appeared about 26 million years ago.They include camels, deer, and horses, and have left a varied fossil record. Rhinos and tapirs were once a common, widespread group.  They included the largest ever land mammal, Paraceratherium, more than 16 feet tall.  Elephants such as mammoths were another widespread, varied group; today, only two species survive.

Paleontologists, when studying fossils, take photographs, organize fossil collections, make models, and do re-creations using the prehistoric evidence to suggest what the animal or plant looked like when alive.  In the field as each fossil is cataloged it is placed in temporary storage, along with any drawings or snapshots. By comparing the hard parts with equivalent parts in similar species alive today, a fossil can be identified.


THE BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE.  Volumes 34.  The Grolier Society, Inc., New York, 1961, pp. 902-9N and 980-982

Erickson,.Jon, FOSSILS AND MINERALS.  Facts On File, Inc., New York, pp. 24, 75-78, 84, 92-98 and 129.

Parker, Steve and Jane, COLLECTING FOSSILS.  Sterling Publishing Co., New York, 1997.

Walker, Cyril and David Ward.  FOSSILS.  Darling Kindersley, Inc., New York, 1992.

Page 6 of 6,                         Friends of Gray Fossil Site News                        March 2004

ETSU Classes of interest to Friends of Gray Fossil Site

FIRST SUMMER SESSION Physical Geology, taught by Glenn Tilson.
Independent Study with field work.... contact Dr. Steven Wallace.

Economic Geology; Mineralogy; Environmental Geology; Tectonics


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