Volume 1, Number 1                                       May 2001





Welcome to everyone who is supportive  of the Gray Fossil Site!  This is the first of a hopefully quarterly newsletter.



Maybeth Peterson


Dear Friends,

            Just a little over one year ago, a very exciting event took place in Gray, Tennessee:  The Gray Fossil Site was discovered during construction to widen State Route #75 near Daniel Boone High School.  Construction was stopped until a determination could be made as to the size of the site.  There was a great deal of excitement among the scientific as well as the local communities over this site.  For several weeks the discovery of was kept secret, however it was not long before scientists around the world were made aware of the significance of the discovery.  As interest grew, it became apparent that something must be done to retain this site and its contents locally, for the scientific education of residents and students in northeastern Tennessee.  Through the effort of one dedicated Gray resident, Mrs. Anne Whittemore, the non-profit organization known as the Friends of the Gray Fossil Site was born. 

            Meetings were held by then known-interested individuals, board members were appointed and our first public meeting was held on 29 March 2001.  While attendance was small, most attendees expressed a great deal of interest in becoming active members of the Friends organization.  The second public meeting will be held Thursday evening 07 June 2001 from 7:00-8:30 pm in the Little Theater at Daniel Boone High School in Gray, Tennessee. 

            At this writing the known agenda items will including voting on the proposed annual dues schedule and the introduction of a content to select an official logo for the Friends of the Gray Fossil Site, to be used on such items as letterhead, tee shirts, mugs, etc.

            Dr. Nick Fielder, Tennessee State Archeologist, has accepted an invitation to speak to the group that evening, barring any last minute assignments that would present him from doing so.

            We look forward to seeing all of you again at our 07 June meeting.  Please invited your friends and neighbors to join us.


A LITTLE MORE ABOUT OUR ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY: The thought of having a Friends group to involve members of the Gray community as well as others interested in fossils among the Tri-Cities regional community was hatched last summer (2000) after 2-3 meetings held at the Gray Washington County Library at which various scientists spoke.  Many of those attending seemed “gung-ho” on having some kind of input to ensure that a museum be built so that the bones would stay in this area.

To that end, I encouraged Lusetta Jenkins and Gene Cox to meet with me to discuss the possibility of a Friends group.  After Harry Moore, a geologist with TDOT, spoke at the September 2000 meeting of the Southern Appalachian Geological Association, we were able to encourage several area geologists to join us and began to have monthly meetings in November 2000 to plan the group.  Mr. Cox was unable to continue to meet with the group, and Maybeth Peterson graciously accepted the position of protem President of the group through December 2001.


At first we were concerned that we would need to do extensive fund raising to build a museum.  Dr. Nick Fielder, TN State Archeologist, assured the Board members at a February SAGA meeting that the State would fund and build a museum/research station.  With the State’s deficit budget, such monies may not be available in the near future.  It is the opinion of this editor that the Friend’s group should strongly consider fund raising to ensure the building of a museum here.  There’s an old saying, “Money speaks louder than words”.  Such may be the case here.


Current Board members include:  Maybeth Peterson, President; Lusetta Jenkins, Vice President; V. Collins Chew, Secretary; Mildred Kozsuch, Treasurer; Larry Bristol, Scientific Advisor/ETSU Liaison; Lydia Sinemus, Schools Liaison; Dorothy Humpf, Webmistress; Tara Hinkle, law advisor; Dr. Charles Bartlett, Consultant and Anne & R.E. Whittemore, newsletter editors.


Our charter has been approved by the TN Secretary of State as of 23 May 2001.  The tax ID number and filing for non-profit status are in process of application, and we have established  a bank account.  Our bylaws are to be approved by the Board at our June 3   meeting.  Anyone interested may attend.  Call 477-2235 for directions to meeting.    We hope to set our dues by membership approval at the June meeting.  Selection of a Nominating Committee will be made within the month and we plan to have elections at the October meeting.  New officers and board members will take office beginning in January 2002.  Officers will serve two years.  One-third of the current board members will serve for three years, a second third for two years, and the last third for one year. --          Anne Whittemore




CONTEST  ---  We would like a logo.  We are soliciting drawings that will be capable of Xerox reproduction as well as have the ability to be used on tee shirts, patches, and stationery.  Please flood us with ideas!  Send to 208 Mark Drive, Gray, TN 37615.





1. has 14 hooves, a rubbery snout and walks under water?

2. LOVES bananas?

3. is related to a horse and a rhinoceros?

4.  babies have stripes and spots at birth and weigh about 15-20 pounds?

5.  makes squeaking and chirping noises?

6.  can move its nose in all directions to smell?

7.  can climb over steep hills, logs and fences?

8.  runs to water when hunted or scared?

9.  pulls food into its mouth with its flexible nose?

10.  There are four species of this animal left on earth. Much of their habitat has been destroyed.  All species are endangered.  What IS this animal?  (Look for answer else-where in the issue!)



Check noting Dinosaurhunt 2001.  This group sponsors dinosaur hunts in the Hall Creek formation of Montana.  Dover Publications has craft-type books with punch-out dino skeletons, follow-the-dot pictures, dino tattoos, book marks, dioramas, etc.  Many of these are available for only $1.  Write to Dover Publications, 31 East Second St, Mineola, NY 11501 for a catalog.




by: Robert E. Whittemore, CPG

Chief Geologist, General Shale Brick


Summer, 2000.  Americans had survived the Y2K bug and celebrated Independence Day.  Gore and Bush were duking it out with party rivals for the top of the ticket in the coming presidential elections.  Bill Clinton had invited opposing Mid-east factions to a summit conference, and the First Lady had announced she would run for the Senate.  On that warm, hazy July 6 morning, Kristen Hebestreet reported in the Johnson City Press:  “Fossil find:  Road project reveals treasure of ancient bones”.  Untrammeled excitement spread throughout the community.  There was talk of a natural history museum at the interstate exit.  Tee shirts were minted depicting a giant ground sloth.  Some expressed outrage that many of the fossils had already been dug up and carried off to Knoxville or Nashville.  Private collectors found their way onto the site and began stocking their own repositories.  The rumored occurrence of the bones of a beaver as large as a pickup truck piqued the interest of even the most taciturn.


As the hot, dry summer set in, discoveries continued.  The future of road improvements was debated.  The Governor and State representatives visited the site.  All this was accurately chronicled in the Press.  Then, with excitement already at a fever pitch, a new discovery was reported.  What was at first thought to be the remains of a giant ground sloth was identified as those of a long-extinct ancestral rhinoceros.  The fossil bones at Gray were not Ice Age after all.  They were Miocene.  Reaction to this stunning revelation varied from puzzlement to a collective yawn.


Ice Age we can comprehend.  Corgan’s Tennessee’s Prehistoric Vertebrates lists no fewer than fourteen Ice Age bone sites in Sullivan County.  Saltville, Virginia, is the location of a world-class Ice Age fossil deposit that has been studied off and on for 200 years.  But, Miocene?  What’s the big deal here?


To begin to place things in their proper order, let us first take a look at the so-called geologic time scale.  This scale finds its beginnings in 18th century Great Britain, where early geologists attempted to place fossil assemblages into groupings, which they named for ancient tribes.  When they realized that these groups could represent a chronological order, these divisions became the nucleus of the geologic time scale.  The absolute age of rocks and fossils was (and still is) a hotly-debated topic, so it is convenient to have a relative time scale with divisions subject to adjustment as new information  is  compiled.  While absolute (X years  ago) numbers are often assigned to divisions of this scale, they are in a constant  state of revision.

So let us now explore this time scale, beginning with the big picture, and then breaking it down so as to locate my scene...oops, I mean, the Miocene.


Four point five billion years.  That’s a four, a dot, and a five, followed by eleven zeros.  That will be my only attempt to assist the reader in visualizing such astronomical numbers.  Here again, this figure is subject to revision, but it approximates the currently-held age of the earth as well as most meteorites.  It is, for now, the entire width of the geologic time scale.  It is sometimes divided into two major units; the Phanerozoic and the Precambrian.  The Precambrian covers everything before multi-celled organisms began leaving calcareous skeletons to be fossilized.  The Precambrian time is often broken down into two divisions; the younger being the Proterozoic, and the older being the Archean.  (Note:  I will occasionally translate some of the names to make them easier to relate to and remember; but to avoid repetition, wherever the suffix “-zoic” appears, it translates as “life”.)


Moving ahead in time, the Phanerozoic covers the last 544 million years.  it just so happens that, at 544,000,000 years ago, a primitive organism known as archaeocyathid left behind a calcareous skeleton that became a fossil.  All geological time since then is referred to as Phanerozoic.  This expanse of time is conveniently broken down into three periods; these are the Cenozoic, the Mesozoic, and the Paleozoic.  If we were to chart what we know thus far, it might come out looking something like the diagram at the end of this paragraph. Please note that, whenever a time scale such as this is presented, it is typically shown with the oldest time division on the bottom.  This convention has been established to mimic the way the corresponding rock units were actually deposited.  The initials “m.y.a.” stand for “million years ago”; 4600 m.y.a. can be read: “Four point six billion, or the European style, “Four thousand, six hundred million.”



            Present  ---------------------------------------


            65 m.y.a. --------------------------------------


            250 m.y.a. -------------------------------------


            544 m.y.a.  ------------------------------------


            2500 m.y.a.  -----------------------------------


            4600 m.y.a. ------------------------------------



There is much that can be said about each one of these divisions, but for the purposes of this report, we will focus on the one that will get us to the bone site.  The Miocene is part of the Cenozoic Era, the topmost division in the chart above.  The Cenozoic Era is subdivided into two Periods, the older being the Tertiary Period, and the most recent being the Quaternary Period.  The Quaternary Period includes the Pleistocene Epoch, popularly known as the Ice Age, and the Holocene, which extends from about 10,000 years ago to the present.


The Tertiary Period, which is the earlier division of the Cenozoic, began with a bang 65 million years ago.  This “bang” was the result of a collision with a large meteorite or asteroid (which, along with comets, are termed bolides if they strike the earth).  The asteroid made landfall on what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, blasting a crater over 120 miles wide into the earth’s crust.  The devastation was worldwide, and alas, the dinosaurs were eradicated from the face of the planet.  Bad for lizards, good for mammals.  Now the warm-blooded, fuzzy critters could dominate the environment without falling prey to marauding reptilians.


The Tertiary Period is further divided into five epochs.  A diagram of the most recent sixty-five million years of earth history looks like this:


        Present  -----------------------------------------


        Quaternary       10,000 y.a. -----------------


        1.5 m.y.a.  ---------------------------------------


                              5 m.y.a. ----------------------


                              23 m.y.a. --------------------

        Tertiary                              Oligocene

                              34 m.y.a. --------------------


                              55 m.y.a. --------------------


        65 m.y.a. ----------------------------------------


And that is what the scene has been for the last sixty-five million years.  Our age of interest, the Miocene, is represented in the eastern United States chiefly by coastal sediments east of the Piedmont.  These, however, are marine sediments.  They yield fossils of ocean-dwelling organisms -- whale bones, sharks teeth, clam shells, snails, and crabs, to mention a few.  Occasionally, a mammoth tooth or a piece of mastodon tusk will turn up, but terrestrial (land dwelling) vertebrates are clearly not represented by coastal marine sediments.


Fossil land mammals are much more likely to be preserved in ancient lake beds, tar pits, oxbow lakes and caves.  Such environments only represent a tiny fraction of Terra Firma.  Any body of land that rears itself above mean high tide is going to start washing away forthwith, so finding the tiny niches where a dry land  deposit can (1) accumulate fossils, and (2) preserve them against erosion for thousands to millions of years is about as common as frost in Purgatory.  In fact, there is only one other currently-known Miocene land mammal site in the eastern states; that being the Thomas Farm in Florida.


And that, troops, is why a Miocene bone deposit in Gray is so exciting!  The circumstances under which the bones were concentrated, and the chances of being preserved for this length of time are long odds.  But now that the discovery has been made, and the site has grabbed nationwide attention, it is no longer just another gray area.


Reference List:


Corgan, James X. and Emanuel Breitburg, 1996, Tennessee’s Prehistoric Vertebrates, Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Geology, Nashville, Tennessee, 170 pages.


Holmes, Arthur, 1965, Principles of Physical Geology:  The Ronald Press Company, New York, 1288 pages.


Ojakangas, Richard W., 1991, Introductory Geology:  Schaum’s Outline Series.  McGraw-Hill Inc., 294 pages.


Pan Terra, Inc., 1994, A Correlated History of Earth.  Afton, MN, One sheet, Poster.  (Highly recommended).




                 by:  Larry Bristol, Geologist

     Instructor, East Tennessee State University


The Miocene epoch formally designates a unit of geologic time which began approximately 24 million years ago and ended 5.3 million years ago.  Over 18 million years in duration, it represents an interval of great physical and biological changes in Earth history that would ultimately lead to the modern world we recognize today.


The term Miocene was introduced in 1833 by the British geologist Sir Charles Lyell as a subdivision to the Tertiary period of the Cenozoic era.  Based on his work with marine strata in the Paris Basin of France, the Miocene was defined based on the ratio of fossil mollusks (clams, snails) that were still represented by living species.  Lyell found that only 18% of the fossil mollusks from this interval of geologic time had extant counterparts in the modern oceans.  He proposed the term Miocene or “less recent” because it had a lower fossil /living ratio than the succeeding, and thereby  younger, Pliocene “more recent” epoch.


As stated, developments throughout the Miocene would ultimately lead to the physical and biological world we recognize today.  Physical changes to the earth, including the positioning of the continents, the formation of mountain ranges, the establishment of modern oceanic circulation patterns, and climatic trends were related in a large part to movements of the earth’s great crustal, or tectonic plates (plate tectonics, often known by the more familiar, but outmoded, term: continental drift).  Biological changes during this interval reflect the response of living organisms to these changing physical conditions.


During the Miocene, tectonic movements resulted in the ongoing reshuffling of the continents on the face of the globe.  On a world regional scale, the continued collisions of Africa with Europe and India with Asia, a continuation of orogenic (mountain building) activity begun earlier in the Cenozoic, resulted in the formation of the Alps and Himalayan Mountain ranges.  Aside from representing topographic features, mountain ranges also significantly affect climate, disrupting weather patterns and creating rain shadows.  This results in more arid (drier) conditions, especially within the interiors of continents.  The Mediterranean Sea dried up completely a number of times during the Miocene due to this and other factors.


With respect to North America during the Miocene, the continental United States in particular, very different geological processes were operating in the East and in the West.  Eastern North America was, for the most part, above sea level and tectonically passive, resulting in destructive erosional forces as the primary agent of geological change.  By contrast, western North America was periodically inundated by inland seas, but more importantly, was tectonically active.  This resulting in mountain building (the Coast Ranges, Cascades, and the Rockies formed or continued to form during this interval), pronounced volcanic activity (Columbia and Snake River flood basalts), crustal deformation, and the formation of basins in which sediments and fossils could accumulate.  These are the reasons that Miocene-aged deposits are much more common in the American West.


The physical event with the most far-reaching effects during the Miocene involves the continent of Antarctica.  As early as the Eocene epoch, this largest of continents had become positioned over the South Pole, but remained generally warm due to the influx of warmer waters from lower latitudes.  In the Oligocene, as both South America and Australia moved farther away from Antarctica, the cyclic circumpolar current developed.  As water trapped in this current cycled around the pole, it became colder and colder.  At this point, Antarctica began to refrigerate (ice over), leading to a general decrease in world temperatures.  This cooler world climate also resulted in drier conditions (combined with the previously discussed aridity caused by mountain building) because cooler air holds less moisture than warmer air.  This global trend toward cooler, drier climates would be most pronounced by the middle Miocene, and would have profound impact on the concurrent evolution of both plants and animals.


Throughout the Miocene, the southern hemisphere continents of South America, Australia, and Antarctica existed as separate, isolated landmasses.  As such, each would develop its own unique and endemic flora (plants) and fauna (animals).  By contrast, the northern hemisphere continents would remain loosely interconnected, allow the free migration and exchange of organisms.


By far, the most profound biological events of the Miocene related directly to the cooler, drier climates that were the end result of the above physical processes.  These conditions favored the radiation of a type of plant known as grasses, ecosystems known as grasslands, and the parallel evolution of animals, particularly mammals that would exploit this resource.


Grasses originated in the Paleocene epoch and underwent minor expansion in the Eocene, but did not reach their full evolutionary potential until the late Oligocene and particularly, the Miocene.  Grasslands, which go by different names in various parts of the world - prairie, savanna, steppe began to largely replace forested communities by the Miocene.


Although we, as humans, probably don’t give it much thought, eating grass is extremely hard on the teeth.  Many grasses, particularly a type known as C4 grasses which evolved in the latest Miocene, incorporate large quantities of silicon dioxide in their cellular structure.  This corresponds to the mineral quartz, the material most commonly familiar as beach sand.  As such, organisms which feed on grasses (grazers) such as horses, typically have much higher-crowned teeth to prolong wear than do organisms which feed on twigs and leaves (browsers) such as deer.  Interestingly, a mass extinction of grazing mammals with low-crowned teeth corresponds to the appearance of the highly abrasive C4 grasses in the late Miocene.


Although many groups of organisms diversified during this interval of geologic time, the Miocene is truly a story of the ungulates, or the hoofed mammals.  Hoofed mammals fall into two categories:  Artiodactyls and Perrisodactyls.  The Artiodactyls represent the even-toed ungulates and include such organisms as cattle, sheep, deer, giraffes, hippos and camels.  These organisms have either two or four  toes and the weight is borne on an axis that passes between the third and fourth digits.


Perrisodactyls are the odd-toed ungulates and include horses, rhinoceroses, tapirs and two extinct organisms, the titanotheres and the chalicotheres.  These organisms posses either one or three toes and the weight is borne on an axis passing through the third digit.


Both groups originated in the Eocene epoch, the Artiodactyls in North America, the Perrisodactyls in Asia.  The Perrisodactyls were initially more successful in the Eocene, and particularly in the Oligocene when this group reached its greatest diversity.  By comparison, the Artiodactyls began to expand and diversity in the Miocene, a trend that continued to the present day.  Compare 170 species of Artiodactyls to only 16 species of Perrisodactyls in the modern world.


What is the reason behind the success of the Artiodactyls beginning in the Miocene?  It is related to the expansion of grasslands in the cooler, drier climates, but keep in mind that both groups are predominantly grazers with high-crowned teeth (consider horses as Perrisodactyls).  Artiodactyl success has less to do with dentition (teeth) than it does with digestion.  By the latest Oligocene, and particularly in the Miocene, most Artiodactyls had become ruminants, animals that “chew their cud”.  This type of digestion is more efficient, giving an evolutionary advantage to animals that possess it; in this case, the Artiodactyls.





            A meeting of interested geologists instrumental in working at the site was held at TDOT - Knoxville office, Strawberry Plains, Tennessee on April 9, 2001 with Nick Fielder presiding.   Reports from each person present are as follows:

1)  Larry Bristol reported that a vertebrate paleontologist/geologist is being sought by ETSU.  This is a 12-month position defined as 50% teaching and 50% research/public service.  A PhD is desired with degrees in geology or closely related areas.  A specialty in vertebrate paleontology, particularly Cenozoic mammals is preferred.  [As this date, candidates are being interviewed.]

2)  Dr. Mike Clark, geomorphology instructor at UTK, is in charge of soil, clay and mineralogical studies.  He will make  two more of the terraced “strips” this summer.  Studies show a stacked soil sequence with truncated profiles not visible in the field.  Mineralogy results will be available in the fall.

3)  Larry Bolt, TDOT, presented the drilling results in the form of a chart of depths drilled and a schematic drawing of the numbered holes.  Holes were drilled in late February although weather constraints kept drillers from doing as much as they wanted to do.  A total of 48 holes have been drilled and the eastern side of the site (where present creek is) has been located.  A colored schematic map gives the definite impression of a sinkhole.  The site is in the upper Knox.  Further, Mr. Bolt noted that the varves (a varve is an annual layer of sedimentary material deposited in lakes or fjords by glacial meltwater, often consisting of two distinct bands of sediment deposited in summer and winter) measure 10 cm.  Through extrapolation, he has estimated there to be 26,000 varves in the entire site, assuming that there are varves all the way to the bottom of the deposit.  Kaolinized chert was found in some of the fluvial deposits lying on top of the varved clays and within the gravels that interlace the clays.  Erosion has truncated the rounded gravels which appear to be from a superimposed fluvial deposit.  The contractor sold much of the gravel at the northern end of the deposit.  Kevin Brown, TDOT biologist, found teeth believed to be from a peccary (hog) in the fluvial gravels that had been on top of the site.

4)  Dr. Walter Klippel, Department of Anthropology, UTK, said that four tapirs have been sent to the Florida State Museum for additional study.  There is some question as to the particular species of the tapir because these are not exactly like the ones currently living today in Central and South America.  These appear to be a smaller tapir of an average 250 pounds, most of which became extinct at the end of the Miocene.

   Al Holman has studied the fossilized turtle remains and has determined that all are aquatic dwellers.  None are terrestrial.  With turtles, reptiles, there had to be something for these organisms to eat in the water.

5)  Dr. Paul Parmalee, retired paleontologist UTK, reported that in screening the small matrix, vertebrae of very tiny fish have been found.  At this point, no one is sure what kind of fish lived here.  There were also many seeds that disintegrated quickly.

6)  Sally Horn, Dept of Geography UTK, said she would be working with pollen identification.  She cautioned those working at the site to watch for stomach contents and tapir feces.  Baird tapirs, currently living in Costa Rica where she has done much research, prefer to defecate in water.  She also asked that researchers keep an eye out for possible paleo fires.

7)  Nick Fielder reported that the church has bought the surrounding property and has agreed to sell the fossil-bearing area to the State.  As the fence is currently in place, it covers part of the church property.  The State will make 3 separate proposals for purchase of property:

a)  the fossil-bearing part of the church property,

b)  1.2 acres on the northern side of the property,

c)  the western side where the barn is.

A fourth area, the current waste site, may also be acquired by the State. 

8)  UT researchers are limited in how much money they can ask for through NSF and National Geographic because of the circumstances  of the bones being found during road construction.

9)  An architect has been hired to design the needed facilities.  The architect and Nick will poll this assembled group to find out what future facilities will be needed, what activities will be housed there, the type of research station wanted, with emphasis given to public watching and scientific tourism.

10)  Chris Whisner, UTK graduate student in Geological Sciences,  reported that he had presented a large poster (4 x 8 feet) at the GSA, southeastern section meeting April 6, 2001 at Raleigh, North Carolina.  He said that his (and others) research shows that the site’s development appears to be fault controlled, following the E-W striking faults in the Knox rather than being related to karst development.

11)  The Tennessee Division of Geology will be geologically mapping the 7.5 minute topographic quadrangles of Sullivan Gardens and Leesburg this summer.

12)  Individual work will be done at the Site by permit from the State Archeologist’s office.

13)  Fulkerson Road will be terminated as a cul-de-sac having no direct access to State Hwy 75.

14)  Water will be available at the site from a hydrant to be installed.

15)  The first work of the season is to be topographic mapping of the site in its current condition.  Then the area will be sectioned into 5 Meter grids ultimately staking the corners with iron pins.  Elevation will be taken at each corner prior to taking with iron pins.  Map will be oriented true north-south.

16)  TDOT personnel will construct a three-foot bridge across the drainage ditch.




It is very likely that the Friends will have to participate in major fundraising to ensure getting a museum here.  The “promise” of the State to do so may well be based on the State income tax package going through. 





            Friends of the Gray Fossil Site participated in Walmart’s Earth Day, Saturday, April 28.  The large presentation board was prepared by Anne Whittemore with tremendous help from Chris Whisner, Harry Moore, Sally & Richard Horn, Sheryl Todd (of the Tapir Preservation Fund), and Greg Bowles.  Anne/ Robert Whittemore, and Mildred Kozsuch stayed with the display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.   Membership information sheets were available.  Many people stopped by to talk and look; a fair number kept on walking, but glanced back for a second look!  Walmart provided tables, chairs and cups for water. 



                 WHAT IS A TAPIR?

                by:  Anne Whittemore


Since the majority of the bones already removed from the site are those of tapir, it sure would be nice to know just what one was or is!


Tapisr live in dense forested regions of the world, primarily feeding by night on twigs, leaves, grasses and fruit of certain trees.  Although somewhat pig-like in appearance, tapirs are not related to a pig.  Instead, the tapir along with the horse and the rhinoceros forms the order of odd-toed hoofed mammals.  The tapir’s body is rounded and covered with sparse fur.  The snout is long and flexible.  Despite short legs, tapir run with great speed.  Their broad feet have hoofed toes.  There seems to be an argument as to how many toes are on the feet:  one source says four hoofed toes on the front feet, three on the hind feet.  Another source says five hoofed toes on the front feet and three on the hind.   Tapirs LOVE water; they drink a great deal and are excellent swimmers;  often they are seen walking in rivers or other bodies of water with only their snout protruding.  Tapirs also head for water if they are scared and/or threatened.


All baby tapirs have stripes and spots at birth and weigh about 15-20 pounds.  The gestation period is 13 months.  Babies stay with their mothers for one to two years.  Tapirs can live, unmolested, about 30 years. 


There are four species of tapir remaining in the world.  The Asian tapir of Malaya and Sumatra, Tapirus indicus, is black with a white saddle extending over the rump.  The adult is about 3 feet (90 cm) high at the shoulder and 6-8 feet  (180-240 cm) long; it weighs about 400 pounds (180 kg). 


The other three species are found in Central and South America.  The lowland tapir, T. terrestris, inhabits marshy lowlands from Colombia to Argentina; preferring a habitat that is moist, wet, or seasonally inundated.  The adult is a uniform dark brown, similar in size to the Asian species.  The mountain tapir, T. pinchaque, occupies the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains and has thick black fur.  T. bairdii, the Central American tapir, is also dark brown with a white area beneath the chin.  It is almost as large as a donkey, and is found in undisturbed rain forests from southern Mexico to northwestern South America. 


Tapirs were once widely distributed in tropical regions until the Pleistocene epoch when most species became extinct.  The tapir bones found a the Gray Site are similar to, but not exactly like, T. bairdii.  Thus, it is supposed that the Gray tapirs are one of the extinct species. 


Current local extinction of the lowland tapir in South America is a threat because of overhunting and selective destruction of the preferred tapir habitat.  The palm forests and other preferred habitats are being cut down at alarming rates by local people and development projects.  Palm fruits are an important food item for tapir; destruction of this food source will have a significant impact on tapir populations.  Tapir play a major role in economically maintaining productive forests and other habitats through seed dispersal.  Laws which allow hunting of tapir for subsistence living are on the books in several countries, also adding to extinction.


Man is by far the tapir’s worst enemy.  ALL SPECIES OF TAPIR ARE ENDANGERED.



The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, c2000, Columbia University Press.


Todd, Sheryl, The Tapir Preservation Fund and Tapir Gallery website.


Check the website:



Tapir                                         Rhinoceros

Aquatic turtle                             Snail

Alligator            (recently identified as such)

Elephant-like mammal               Fish

Possible peccary

Possible horse

Animal bones likely to be found:

Dogbear                                   Bear

Saber-tooth tiger                       Hyenas






Where have all the big “Ice Age” fauna gone - the mastodons, giant beaver, ground sloth?  What about the more tropical animals?  The passenger pigeon and Carolina parakeet, the most obvious birds in Tennessee in the early 1800s, are now extinct.  Buffalo, elk and many other native animals that were common then have been displaced.  Since the 1820s the fauna of Tennessee has changed permanently and drastically.  What happened?


Such questions are hard to answer because information is scarce.  Answers depend on finding and interpreting fossils.  For many questions, vertebrate fossils can be informative, but there is a communication problem.  Most discoveries of vertebrate fossils are made accidentally.  The normal find is a jigsaw-puzzle of bones.  They wash out of creek banks or turn up where construction disturbs the land.  Those finding the sites either had no prior interest in fossils or may decide that it is of major importance to their growing fossil collection.  Typically, there are uncertainties - how old are the bones?  What animal?  Is the find rare or common?


Each year discoveries that could add to knowledge of the past may go unrecorded.  We know that such is the case with many of the first bones found at the Gray Site.  This site is of major importance in that it is the only Miocene site known in Tennessee and is also the first vertebrate fossil locality in Washington County (as of 1996 Corgan & Breitburg).  Ten to 15 sites are found in Sullivan County; most of those in are caves.  Although tapir have been found in other localities within the state, the animal was identified primarily through single teeth.  The Gray Site is the first site where so many individuals have been found.  According to the 1996 edition of Tennessee’s Prehistoric Vertebrates, there has been no site recorded in Tennessee of rhinoceros (or Teleoceras).


Should anyone know of a person or persons with unrecorded fossils previously taken when there was no security at the site, convincing them that at least showing their finds for recording purposes to the Tennessee Division of Geology or State Archeologist’s office would be a good idea.



Corgan, James X. and Emanuel Breitburg, 1996, Tennessee’s Prehistoric Vertebrates, Department of Environment and Conservation, Division of Geology, Nashville, Tennessee, 170 pages.





Among all the periossodactyl groups, the most complicated fossil history is that of the Rhinocerotoidea, the rhinoceros and their relatives.  Modern day rhinoceroses survive in only a few forms in the Old World tropics, but during the Tertiary, they were quite numerous in the northern continents.

Many developed hornlike structures which are composed of a fused mass of modified hairlike material.  Rhinoceroses tended to grow to a large size with short, stout limbs.   The face is usually comparatively short.  The cheek teeth seldom tend to become very high-crowned and cement is almost never present.  The incisors and canines, however, are variable, and there  are frequent losses and specializations.


Rhinoceroses may be divided into three families, of which the most primitive and unspecialized were members of the Hyracodontidae or “running rhinoceroses”.  This animal lived in the North American Oligocene; with long slim legs and three toes on front and hind feet was specialized for running.  The evolutionary advances were similar to those found in the contemporary horses, but the group disappeared before the close of the Oligocene.


A second and early side branch was the Amynodontidae family.  These forms are found in the late Eocene and Oligocene of both Eurasia and America and persisted in Asia until the Miocene.   They were about the general size and proportions of a hippopotamus.  Conditions under which their remains have been found suggest that they were river-living forms.  Metamynodon of the American Oligocene had short, massive limbs, still retaining four short toes in front and three behind.  The skull was heavy with a short “bulldog” muzzle, the premolars had failed to molarize, and the incisors were also reduced.  However, the canines and molars were much enlarged.


The third family, where commonly all remaining forms are placed, are the Rhinocerotidae or true rhinoceroses which became prominent in the Oligocene.  They tended to be a large size with stout limbs.  A pair of incisors, the first upper and second lower, are always enlarged cutting teeth.  The skull has a narrow muzzle with a pointed lip.

The last upper molar is always simpler than the other and forms a single continuous crest. 


Several groups existed within this third family.  Caenopus had already attained a fairly large size (the skull averaged more than a foot in length) and the limbs supporting the stocky body were stout and short, comparable to those of modern tapirs.  The outer (fourth toe) of Caenopus had disappeared; all later types retained a three-toed foot.  Incisor tusks were developed.  The premolar teeth were at first simple but during the Oligocene tended to assume the molar pattern.  These animals were hornless.


An early branch of the Caenopus stock is that of Diceratherium of the American Miocene.  The genus was similar to the Oligocene ancestors except that males possessed small horns placed side by side at the tip of the nose.     


Later rhinoceros types of which Teleoceras, said to have been found at the Gray Site and positively identified by Dr. Mike Voorhees of the University of Nebraska, is one.  These were short-legged, round-bodied, stubby-limbed and broad-footed animals with a build like that of a hippopotamus and with presumably similar amphibious habits.  They were horned at the tip of the nasals.  Alone among other rhinoceros types, these penetrated into North America where abundant remains of Teleoceras have been found in early Pliocene deposits.


By the Miocene, rhinoceroses were beginning to lose somewhat in relative importance.  While they still flourished in Pleistocene times, they are an insignificant part of today’s world ungulate population.



Romer, Alfred S, 1966, Vertebrate Paleontology, 3rd edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 468 pages.                                 



ANIMALS FACTS - Figured it out yet?  Bring your answer to the June 7 Membership meeting.  First person to be right gets a GIANT poster!





The following people are currently members:

Samuel Blackwell

Brenda Calloway

Collins Chew

Myra Frizzell

Joe/Michelle Gantz

Art/Debbie Green

Linda Gray

Helen M. Grills

Ruth Hannah

Kenneth/Helen Hendrix

Patricia Hollenbeck

Mildred Kozsuch

Jerry/Beverly Lovegrove

John Mahoney

Scott Morie

Valerie Schneider

John W. Thompson

Cecil Tomlinson

Anne/Robert Whittemore


Thank you for your confidence

Dues may be sent to Mildred Kozsuch at

546 Matson Rd, Jonesborough TN 37659

Make check payable to Friends of the

Gray Fossil Site.    Thanks.



DON’T FORGET THE NEXT MEETING JUNE 7, 2001, 7:00 AT LITTLE THEATER, DANIEL BOONE HIGH SCHOOL, GRAY.  The bore hole map and corresponding drilling records will be there, as well as geologic map of the area showing known faults.




Send newsletter articles to Editors, Anne & Robert Whittemore, 208 Mark Drive, Gray, TN 37615.           The next newsletter is scheduled for production in September 2001.

E-mail:  OR


We welcome Letters to the Editors, questions.  And we will greatly appreciate articles and updates from geologists, geographers, anthropologists and others working at the Site.   The only way we as the Friends of the Gray Fossil Site can help you is to have your input in our group.

Dr. Walter Klippel, UTK, has suggested giving the Friends a slide show when he is here later in the summer to work at the Site.  We will get the room at the Gray Library and call a special meeting.