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Fossil Celebration to be held at Gray Fossil Site Saturday

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Nov 2, 2017 at 9:57 AM

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum will hold a Fossil Celebration on Saturday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m to educate the public about recent paleontological discoveries at the ancient site.

According to a press release announcing the event, the day will focus on the animals and plants preserved at the site and unearthed by paleontologists. Many of these finds will be showcased in the museum and paleontological research center managed by East Tennessee State University.

Julie Rej, an adjunct faculty member from the ETSU Department of Geoscience, said one of the most interesting discoveries at the site includes a mastodon, which was found in 2015 when paleontologists at the site excavated teeth and other bones.

“One of the biggest discoveries we have is a mastodon,” she said. “They’ve been piecing together the different pieces of ivory they’ve found over the years. This particular species of mastodon is probably going to be a newly-discovered species.”

Other highlights of the event include fossil-related activities for all ages and 3-D printing demonstrations, which Rej said has become an important tool for scanning and replicating new fossil discoveries for the general public to see.

At 2 p.m., ETSU paleontologist Josh Samuels will give a presentation discussing the recent discoveries at the site. After being at the site for a little more than a year, Rej said his specialized work in studying small animals should be able to teach the public more about the Gray Fossil Site.

“Up to this point, we didn’t have someone who specialized in small animals like rodents. He’s been looking at those and identifying different species of those,” Rej said. “Small mammals have a very short lifespan, and they reproduce rapidly, so as a result, they adjust to changes in the environment faster than larger animals. They’re much better for determining changes throughout time periods.”

She said this work could help researchers more closely determine the age of the site itself, which many believe is about 5 million years old. Now, researchers are beginning to think the site could be up to 7 million years old, due to the work of paleontologists like Samuels.

For more information on the Fossil Celebration, call 423-439-3662 or visit www.gfsm.handsonmuseum.org.

For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

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