Lecture Series

The museum hosts an occasional lecture series featuring local and internationally-renowned speakers. Lectures are hosted at varying times to accommodate the travel schedules and availability of our guest speakers.


Upcoming lectures

Check back for upcoming talks!


Precious Lectures

Dr. Jay Franklin, Archaeologist

Saturday, September 12th at 1:00 p.m.

Dr. Franklin will give an overview of Cherokee archaeology in the Central Appalachian region.

Dr. Justin Sipla

Saturday, October 24th at 1:00 p.m.

Dr. Sipla will give a talk about the brain of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, specifically the auditory region and balance.

Dr. Mick Whitelaw

Tuesday, October 27th at 6:00 p.m.

Dr. Whitelaw will give a presentation about trilobites, some of the oldest fossils on record. The museum is hosting an exhibit, Trilobite Treasures: Arthropods of the Ancient Seas. 

Dr. Jim Chatters, Archaeologist and Paleontologist

Sunday, July 26th at 5:00 p.m.

"Ancient Skeletons Recount the Lives of the Earliste (or First) Americans"

Best known for the 1996 discovery of Kennewick Man, and ongoing work at the Hoyo Negro Site in the Yucatan of Mexico, Dr. Chatters is the author of many scholarly articles in journals and books as well as the public-oriented “Ancient Encounters, Kennewick Man and the First Americans.” Now semi-retired, he is the owner of Applied Paleoscience, a consulting service, and advisor to DirectAMS, a commercial radiocarbon dating company, both in Bothell, Washington.

Dr. Jay Franklin, Anthropologist

Saturday, September 6th at 1:00 p.m.

"The Archaeology of Les Yvérats, a Medieval Hamlet in the Sancy Mountains, Massif Central, France”

The medieval era in France is virtually unknown. This is very different from England where scholars have the Domesday Book as a vast and detailed historical record for the medieval era. Because of the lack of knowledge about the era Medieval France may in some ways be considered prehistory best accessed by archaeology.

Franklin will discuss two summers of archaeological testing at the site of Les Yvérats, a medieval residential complex in the Sancy Mountains of south-central France. The site dates from the 11th century into perhaps the 13th century. Mountain regions are often considered isolated, marginal zones. However, work at Les Yvérats  shows us that the hamlet was not isolated after all. 

Franklin is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research interests include the prehistory of Southern Appalachia, Cherokee archaeology, cave and rock shelter archaeology, and Paleolithic and medieval archaeology in France. Franklin has active research projects on the Upper Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, upper East Tennessee, and France, and new a project in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.

Rachel Short, Paleontologist

Saturday, May 3rd at 1:00 p.m.

"Rhinos: Then and Now" is focus of Speaker Series at museum

Short's talk will focus on the rhinoceros lineage through time, particularly North American rhinoceroses. Rhino-like animals appeared in North America approximately 54.0 million years ago. For nearly 50 million years, rhinos were a very successful and diverse group until the lineage went extinct in North America at about 4.5 million years ago. The rhino at the Gray Fossil Site is potentially one of the last rhinos to live in North America. Today, rhinos continue to live in Asia and Africa, though their numbers are dwindling and most species are endangered. During her talk, Short will address various members of the rhino family, but will focus on the rhino found at Gray.

Rachel Short earned her master's in geosciences in 2013. Currently, she is an Appalachia CARES/AmeriCorps Member at the ETSU Natural History Museum.

Aly Baumgartner

Saturday, April 5th at 1:00 p.m.

"Back to the Future: Paleoclimate, Paleoenvironment and the Gray Fossil Site"

Baumgartner's presentation will focus on the Neogene era, which lasted from about 23 million years ago until about 2.5 million years ago. Although much is known of the global climate, little is understood about eastern North America at that time. During the Neogene, the global climate was transitioning from the warm temperatures and higher levels of precipitation of the Paleogene (66 million-23 million years ago) to the cooler temperatures and lower levels of precipitation during the Pleistocene (2.5 million -11,000 years ago).

"The Gray Fossil Site is an exceptional site," said Baumgartner. "It is useful for paleoclimate reconstructions because, unlike most fossil sites from the Neogene, it has both floral and faunal remains. Also, it differs from most other fossil sites in eastern North America because it does not lie along the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts. This makes it crucial to our understanding of the paleoclimate of eastern North America."

Climate change is currently a hot topic, and studying paleoclimate could be beneficial to predicting the future climate. Changes in paleoclimate and paleoenvironment can offer insight on future changes in climate and environment.

Baumgartner received her B.S. in Program in the Environment with a specialization in paleoecology from the University of Michigan in 2008. She then went on to study paleoclimate at East Tennessee State University, where she will receive her M.S. in Biology in May. Baumgartner has worked on many sides of paleontology, from public outreach as a docent, to excavating fossils in the field, to preparing fossils in the lab, as well as her own research.

Dr. Bill Duncan, Anthropologist

Saturday, March 1st at 1:00 p.m.

"Personhood, memory, and violence in a Maya mass grave"

Most people intuitively understand how archaeologists can learn about aspects of past economies, politics, diets, settlement patterns, and even rituals by looking at ceramics, architecture, burials, and other aspects of the material record. What is less clear is how archaeologists can study less tangible aspects of the past, such as public memory and personhood and emotion. During the Postclassic period (ca. AD 950-1524) the political geography in northern Guatemala was dominated by two warring Maya ethnic groups, the Itza and the Kowoj. Both groups used sacrifice and desecration of human bodies as a part of that ongoing conflict, and did so in a way that targeted specific aspects of personhood. Bodies were desecrated and displayed in civic forums in such a way to shaped public memory. In my talk I present data from a Maya mass grave from northern Guatemala to explore these themes and discuss how archaeologists can sometimes gain insight into intangible aspects of past peoples' lives.

Duncan received a Ph.D. in anthropology from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 2005. He studies bioarchaeology (human remains from archaeological sites) of Mesoamerican cultures, specifically the Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec.

Dr. Audrey Depelteau, Director of the ETSU Innovation Lab and Climate Change Reality Leader

Saturday, February 1st at 1:00 p.m.

As a Climate Change Reality Leader, Dr. Audrey Depelteau leads teams that initiate novel dialogues in which misperceptions emerge, assumptions are challenged. She asserts that it will take visionaries, unprecedented levels of cooperation, strong leadership, and the involvement of a broad coalition of scientific leaders and community members to create the fundamental tipping point that will reduce the impact of this global phenomenon.

Depelteau's talk will discuss climate change as a global phenomenon and how it threatens the environment and ecosystems of the world. There will be a follow-up presentation scheduled for the fall of 2014.

The intent of this talk is to initiate an ongoing dialogue by examining what we already do know. What is climate change? Depelteau will also explore factors contributing to the acceleration of climate change, the key environmental & societal impacts of climate change, and steps we can take to reduce climate change.

Formerly the Biology Education Coordinator and manager of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant at ETSU and as a former teacher of Biology, Anatomy & Physiology and Forensics, she is adept at designing, delivering and assessing interdisciplinary student-centered curriculum. Before coming to ETSU, Audrey was business owner, health care provider and consultant in Massachusetts and California for over 26 years. Her passion for the environment was ignited when she read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring for an ecology course in 1971. She did her graduate work in Environmental Toxicology at the Center for Environmental Toxicology and Pathology at Albany Medical College and at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Dr. Jay Franklin, Anthropologist and Erin Pritchard, Archaeological Specialist

Saturday, November 2nd at 1:00 p.m.

"Cherokee Towns of Boone Lake" and "Protecting Our Heritage on TVA Land."

There has long been an assumption that the Cherokee Indians lived throughout East Tennessee. This idea is largely based on vague historical accounts and scattered artifacts, and many of these accounts refer to small groups camping or hunting in the area. Scientists now have firm archaeological evidence of thriving Cherokee towns in the region that span perhaps 300 years or more."

Franklin has led excavations at these sites and will talk about the evidence of the Cherokee towns located in East Tennessee.
However, much of the evidence is endangered by illegal and ill-advised digging by non-archaeologists. Scientists have an opportunity to explore 300 years of Cherokee history, but archaeologists and the public must protect these sites and be sure they are investigated in a thoughtful and systematic manner so researchers have the opportunity to fully understand each site's deep history.

The TVA manages nearly 300,000 acres of public land rich in cultural heritage. As a part of its responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, TVA must manage these lands for the benefit of the resource, the American public, and the groups whose ancestors once inhabited the Tennessee Valley.

Franklin is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His research interests include the prehistory of Southern Appalachia, Cherokee archaeology, cave and rock shelter archaeology, and Paleolithic and medieval archaeology in France. Franklin has active research projects on the Upper Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, upper East Tennessee, and France, and new a project in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.

Pritchard has been with TVA since 2000. Currently, her work focuses on planning and implementing TVA cultural resource programs related to archaeological resource management and protection pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resource Protection Act. She is the editor of TVA Archaeology: Seventy Years of Prehistoric Site Research.
The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, or to arrange special assistance for those with disabilities, call (866) 202-6223.

Dr. Blaine Schubert, Paleontologist

Saturday, September 7th at 1:00 p.m.

"Saltville Discoveries"

Dr. Blaine Schubert, director of the Museum and the ETSU Center of Excellence in Paleontology. He is also a professor with the ETSU Department of Geosciences will talk about recent excavations in Saltville, Virginia. Schubert and other paleontologists recently returned from conducting excavations at an Ice Age fossil site in Saltville, Va., where they rediscovered the location of a giant short-faced bear that researchers had been trying to relocate, leading to the discovery of more of the creature's remains.

The university-led excavations have focused in two areas, one of which held a mammoth skeleton that was heavily scavenged and chewed on by large carnivores. The second area contained a wide variety of fossils, ranging from giant short-faced bears to tiny salamanders and from musk-oxen to huge mammoths. This wide variety of fossils give researchers a more detailed picture of what the southern Appalachians were like at the very end of the last Ice Age, which is a time when climates were changing dramatically, people were just becoming established on the continent, and the megafauna, or large animals, were on the verge of extinction.

One of the most significant finds for the ETSU team was a simple rock, because in 2000 a giant short-faced bear jaw was recovered by another excavation team, and the location information for the dig, and the jaw, was lost. However, a picture existed of the jaw sitting next to a specific rock and the general area was known. After much searching for the past five years, the exact rock was rediscovered this year and the research team was able to put a cast of the jaw back in place and map it. As a result, paleontologists were able to continue the excavations in that area and recover more of the short-faced bear skeleton, including teeth. Scientists expect future digs to uncover much more.

Rachel Witt, Bioarchaeologist

Saturday, June 29th at noon

"Violent Encounters in Andes Warfare, Trophy-taking, and Sacrifice"

Rachel Witt analyzes human skeletal remains to illustrate the past experiences of pre-colonial Andean populations in South America. Her research investigates how the policies and practices of independent communities verses those of imperial states affected morbidity, physical activity patterns, and exposure to violence. Witt also examines the relationship between burial style and remains to assess funerary practices, social differentiation, and community identity with and between cemetery sectors of the north-central highlands, Peru.

Witt's talk will focus on how the archaeological study of human skeletal remains, known as bioarchaeology, is useful for in identifying and understanding conflict in pre-colonial societies of South America. Prior to Spanish contact, all Andean populations were alliterate and produced no written documents. Bioarchaeology is therefore crucial in understanding how acts of violence influenced the creation, expansion, and dissolution of pre-contact chiefdom and state societies.

For the last three years, Witt has worked with several projects in Peru, including the Ayacucho Bioarchaeology Project with La Universidad Nacional de San Cristōbal de Huamanga, Proyecto Bionarqueolōgico Coporaque, and PIARA (Proyecto de Investigaticón Arqueológico Regional Ancash). She received her B.A. in anthropology and history of art from Vanderbilt University and currently serves as Curatorial Assistant at the Natural History Museum and Gray Fossil Site.

S.D. Dean, Archaeologist

Saturday, June 1st at noon

"Archaeological Investigations in Sullivan County"

S.D. Dean has spent his career excavating and researching various sites in East Tennessee. Before Dean's excavations there had been very little work within the professional archaeological community regarding upper East Tennessee. His career has included several meticulous excavations from salvage efforts at Linville Cave to research investigations at Eastman Rockshelter, both in Sullivan County.

His salvage excavations at Linville Cave revealed several intact deposits that were dated from the Woodland Period, which ranged from 1000 B.C. to 700 A.D. as well as some deposits from the late Pleistocene, which ranged from 2 million years ago to 12,000 years ago..

Dean is recognized in the scientific community for his work at the Eastman Rockshelter, where he processed over 250 tons of sediment.
It was a very successful excavation because he found various stone and ceramic artifacts as well as animal deposits, which were ranging from the Early Archaic through the Mississippian Period, or from about 8,000 B.C. –1,600 A.D.

Dean will also have a small collection of artifacts he has found through the years in Sullivan County, which consists of numerous arrowheads and ancient pottery, on display during his presentation.

Dr. Larisa DeSantis, Vertebrate Paleontologist, Vanderbilt University

Saturday, March 30th at noon

 "Mammalian Responses to Climate Change during the Pleistocene"

 Larisa DeSantis is a vertebrate paleontologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on understanding the ecology of mammalian communities around the world through time. She examines modern ecosystems to better understand fossil communities and uses the fossil record to inform scientists about animal and plant responses to climate change.

Today, climate change affects the distribution of plants and animals. While ecologists and conservation biologists aim to assess current effects of climate change, paleontologists use the fossil record to understand how plants and animals responded to past climate changes.

Using chemical signatures locked in the teeth of extinct mammals and their microscopic wear patterns left during the process of food, DeSantis will discuss how she and her colleagues have documented mammalian responses to climate change during the Pleistocene Epoch, which took place from about 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago.

DeSantis received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley (B.S.), Yale University (M.E.M.), and the University of Florida (Ph.D.). She has also worked with paleontologists at ETSU and the Gray Fossil Site since 2004 and enjoys applying paleoecological methods to better understand the Gray Fossil Site and occupying mammals. When DeSantis is not in the laboratory or field, she enjoys communicating her research to students and the public through educational outreach. Her work has been featured all over the world, including Russia, India, China, and numerous countries in North America, Europe, and South America.

Dr. David Jennings, Lecturer, ETSU, Department of Geosciences

Saturday, March 23rd at noon

"Wild, Wild Weather"

Dramatic weather events are a normal part of everyday life and are representative of the natural processes on our Earth. Often when wild weather happens, the impact on human actions and the environment are quite intense, and sometimes tragic; therefore, it is important to understand the causes of these events and how we can remain safe when they occur. On the other hand, we do not have all the answers about how and why dramatic weather events develop as they do. Consequently, we try to study weather events with a variety of techniques in order to save as many lives as possible.

David Jennings is a Lecturer in the Department of Geoscience at East Tennessee State University. A native of Florida and East Tennessee, he is an eclectic geographer and teaches courses in Earth Science, Meteorology, Cultural Geography, and Regional Geography. An award winning teacher and speaker, he has lead numerous field courses ranging from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Central America, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. His research has focused on topics of weather and climate, human-environment interactions, meteorological hazards, southern pine beetles, modeling vegetation dynamics with GIS, and resource management.

Dr. Mick Whitelaw, Associate Professor, ETSU, Department of Geosciences

Saturday, January 26th at noon (rescheduled from January 18)

"Geology of the Gray Fossil Site"

Mick Whitelaw is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences at ETSU and Curator of Geology at the Gray Fossil Site. He currently teaches Sedimentation and Stratigraphy, Structural Geology, Plate Tectonics, Geophysics, Geologic Evolution of North America and Geology Field Methods at ETSU. He received a B.S. in Geology from Monash University, Australia in 1983 and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 1990. His dissertation research employed magnetic polarity stratigraphy methods to date Pliocene and Pleistocene vertebrate fossil sites in southeastern Australia. His research interests at Gray are focused on characterizing the geology of the site and this includes determining its size, subsurface structure, stratigraphy and fill history.

The Gray Fossil Site is the product of karst geologic activity where groundwater dissolves limestone and causes caves and sinkholes to form. The site occurs on the SE limb of a fold created within the Cambro-Ordovician Knox Group carbonates ca. 350 million years ago. It is likely that the folding of the rock created a network of joint fractures within the limestone that then acted as conduits for groundwater flow. Continued dissolution within these fractures led to collapse of overlying carbonate rock and formation of multiple sinkholes over a protracted period of time. Individual sinkholes acted as depocenters that were filled with sediments which also preserved invertebrate, vertebrate and floral material. Drilling and a gravity survey conducted at the site clearly indicate that the site exists as a complex of different-age overlapping sinkhole fill sequences.

Dr. Christopher Brochu, University of Iowa

Saturday, December 15, 6:00 p.m.

"Myth of the Living Fossil: Perspectives on the Deep History of Crocodylia"

Christopher Brochu is a vertebrate paleontologist and systematist who studies the evolutionary history of crocodylians – crocodiles, alligators, and gharials and their close extinct relatives – based on anatomical, fossil, and molecular evidence.  He obtained his BS at the University of Iowa in 1989 and his MA (1992) and PhD (1997) at the University of Texas.  He spent three years at the Field Museum in Chicago, where he worked on the largest, most complete skeleton of Tyrannosaurus ever found ("Sue").  He has been on the faculty at the University of Iowa since 2001.

Crocodylians - alligators, crocodiles, gharials, and their closest extinct relatives - are often perceived as "living fossils" unchanged since the Age of the Dinosaurs.  In fact, Crocodylia first appeared toward the end of this Age and its subsequent history reveals unexpected complexity.  Crocodylian diversity waxed and waned as climate changed and several groups evolved adaptations very different from those seen today.  They crossed large ocean barriers multiple times and they were the largest predators faced by our African ancestors. Construction of a comprehensive history for the group will allow us to explore the interrelationships of evolution, climate, and environment on a global scale.

Dr. Melissa Rice, postdoctoral scholar in the Division of Geological and Planetary
Sciences at the California Institute of Technology

November 23 at 1:00 p.m.

NASA's Mars rovers have reshaped our vision of the Red Planet with their stunning images and fascinating discoveries.  Amazingly, the Mars Exploration Rover "Opportunity" - which was designed to operate for three months in 2004 - has now been exploring for over eight years. The Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" rover just landed on August 5, and its first months on the planet have been a stunning success. Join Dr. Melissa Rice for a behind-the-scenes look at the images, science and human creativity that have made these missions such a success.  Using remarkable photos taken by the "Pancam" and "Mastcam" instruments, she'll share the inside story of the missions - from the launches right up to the latest pictures returned from the Martian surface.

David Moscato, graduate student in the ETSU Department of Geosciences M.S. program

November 2 at 12:00 p.m.

David Moscato, paleontology graduate student at ETSU, will speak about his research, which
is focused on snake and lizard fossils from a select set of caves in southern China and
documenting these species' evolution through the Ice Age. He will also share his experience
studying abroad this summer at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology
in Beijing, China.

Jeffrey Martin, graduate student in the ETSU Department of Geosciences M.S. program

October 5th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.

"Geologia y Paleontologia de Canal de Panama" (Geology and Paleontology of the Panama Canal)

Dr. Leopoldo Soibelzon, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, CONICET and the La Plata Museum of Natural History

September 11th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.

The Integration and Evolution of Land Mammal Communities in South America from K-T Boundary to the Present

Dr. Soibelzon is an Adjunct Researcher and Professor at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, CONICET and the La Plata Museum of Natural History, Argentina. Much of his research centers around ancient South American carnivores, especially fossil bears.  Soibelzon has worked closely with ETSU Natural History Museum and Center of Excellence in Paleontology director, Dr. Blaine Schubert, on the fossil record and evolution of short-faced bears. Recently the two published a paper on the largest known bear ever recorded, a giant short-faced bear from the Ice Age of South America. During Soibelzon's visit they will be continuing their work on short-faced bears, finalizing a manuscript on the bear from the Gray Fossil Site with one of the museum curators, Dr. Steven Wallace.

The lecture will discuss ideas that shed light on what has been described as "an interesting mixture of creatures... fascinating to almost everyone".  The "strange mammals" that George Gaylord Simpson referred to in his 1980 work "Splendid Isolation" have proven a source of intrigue to scientists, and especially to Dr. Soibelzon.  His "broken zig-zag" hypothesis (in which humans broke the zig-zag) attributes the major mega-mammal extinction of the last Ice Age to moderate hunting pressure by humans in a specific time of rapidly warming climate.

Dr. Gary L. Stringer, University of Lousiana at Monroe

August 9th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.

The Importance of Otoliths for Interpreting Fossil Fishes: An Example from the Late Cretaceous Coon Creek Site in Tennessee

Dr. Stringer is Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and serves as the Curator of the Geosciences Division of the ULM Museum of Natural History. He is internationally recognized in the field of paleoichthyology, the study of fossil fishes. Much of his research centers on the ear stones or otoliths of fossil fishes. In his illustrious career, he has had both the pleasure of naming new fossil fish species (over 20) and having them named after him (Pogonias stringeri and "genus Trachichthyidarum" stringeri).

 Stringer's talk will present evidence of otoliths of fossil fishes collected from the Late Cretaceous Coon Creek Fossil Site in McNairy County Tennessee of about 70 million years ago. Ear stones in living fishes are important for balance and movement, but are important in the study of fossil fishes as well.  Information preserved in these stones can differentiate between species as well as give us clues about the age, habitat and spawning habits of a fish. 

Dr. Alex Hastings, University of Florida

July 10th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.

Fossil Crocodilians of the Neotropics: Tapping into an Unknown Diversity

The New World Tropics today harbors the world's greatest diversity of crocodylians, however, their fossil record in northern South America has been virtually non-existent prior to the Miocene. Sixty million-year-old fossil crocodyliforms from Colombia shed light on a now-extinct lineage that dominated the landscape alongside the world's largest snake, Titanoboa. In the Miocene of Panama, new fossils indicate the origin of the South American caiman and provide new insight into their origin and early radiation.

Alex Hastings is graduating this summer with a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Florida. His dissertation research has been on 60 million-year-old fossil crocodilians of Colombia, and he has also worked on 18-million-year old caimans from Panama and 4,000-year old crocodiles of The Bahamas.

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