About the Collections

Links to information about Miocene Collection Links to information about Pleistocene fossil collection.


The Museum Collection Area is where we catalogue and store fossils for future generations to study and enjoy, now over 14,000 specimens.

The collections room has been designed to be a safe place to store fossils for many years.  The fossils are stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment (between 70 and 73 degrees and relative humidity around 40-50%).  All the lighting is UV filtered.  Only archival (acid-free) materials are used to house and mount specimens.  All preparation of specimens can be reversed--in other words, glues  and even catalog numbers can be safely removed from specimens if necessary.  The collections cabinets themselves are also an important part of maintaining a safe environment for the objects, protecting them from fire, theft, and are made with paints and materials that will not release fumes or toxins over time.For every hour spent in the field, we spend 8 hours to 1 month in the prep lab and in collections preparing the object for storage. Some pieces only need to be cleaned and catalogued, whereas others are meticulously assembled over many weeks. After the lab cleans, butvars, and reassembles (if possible) the fossils, they come over to collections in their plastic bags or in trays. Most bones come with a "Prep Card," which explains how and when they were worked on in the lab. Sometimes the prep card explains what type of bone it is, but often curators must identify them.

Students in Paleontology and visiting researchers commonly request access to the Collections to study ancient species of plants and animals that once lived in this area, some that have been discovered no where else on Earth.  If you would like to be permitted to research the Museum's Collections, please contact one of our curators, Dr. Steven Wallace, , or Dr. Blaine Schubert, .

The Miocene Collection

The majority of the fossils stored here have been excavated from directly behind the museum at the Gray Fossil Site.  These fossils are dated in the late Miocene, about 4.5 to 7 million years old.

The Gray Fossil Site Miocene Collection features the world's largest discovery of fossil Tapirs, particularly an extinct variety known as Tapirus polkensis, the dwarf tapir and new species of Red Panda, Pristinailurus bristoli, and Woodland Badger, Arctomeles dimolodontus

The Pleistocene Collection

The museum contains a sizeable collection of Ice Age Fossils.

Some of these fossils can be seen on display in Basler Exhibit Hall and feature peccary, deer, tapir, horse and carnivore scat material collected with permission from a location commonly known as "Guy Wilson Cave" and subsequently donated to ETSU. 

The rest are from the nearby Saltville, Virginia fossil site, a salt lick (shown in picture above) that has preserved many Ice Age Mega-fauna including Mammoth, Mastodon, Giant Short-faced Bear and evidence of predation by Dire Wolf.  Paleontologists at ETSU conduct field digs in Saltville each summer, working to excavate, preserve, and interpret these finds in conjunction with the town of Saltville.  Specimens are brought to the ETSU & GSB Natural History Museum for preparation and careful collections storage. 


Within our permanent Collection, we also house specimens of all ages collected from within the Southeast United States.  This collection helps to broaden our knowledge of the history of life through time as it relates to this region.


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