Saltville Excavations focus of Saturday talk at Natural History Museum

Saltville rock

JOHNSON CITY (September 4, 2013) – “Saltville Excavations” will be the topic of a free public lecture at the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site this Saturday (Sept. 7) at 1 p.m. 

The talk will be given by Dr. Blaine Schubert, director of the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology, director of the ETSU and General Shale Natural History Museum, and an associate professor in the university’s Department of Geosciences. He has led excavations at the Ice Age fossil site in Saltville, Va., since 2008, after a curation agreement was developed between the town and ETSU.  ETSU maintains two major excavations: Saltville, which ranges in age from 11,000 to more than 40,000 years old, and the Gray Fossil Site, which dates to 4.5 to 7 million years old. 

Schubert and his excavation team recently returned from digging in Saltville, 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.

“Our excavations focused on two areas, one of which held a mammoth skeleton that was heavily scavenged and chewed on by large carnivores,” said Schubert. “The second area had a variety of fossils, ranging from giant short-faced bears to tiny salamanders, which gives us more information about what the southern Appalachians were like at the very end of the last Ice Age.” 

One of the most significant finds for the ETSU team was a rock, because in 2000 a giant short-faced bear jaw was recovered by another excavation team, and the location information for both the dig and the jaw was lost.  However, a picture existed of the jaw sitting next to a specific rock, and the general area where this rock was located 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.

Schubert’s “Saltville Excavations” presentation is part of the Lunchtime Lecture series hosted by the museum and is sponsored by the ETSU Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology.  Interested persons should visit for dates and times of future lectures.

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.

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