Gray Fossil Site invites volunteers to excavate


JOHNSON CITY (March 31, 2014) – Volunteers are needed for the 2014 field season at East Tennessee State University’s Gray Fossil Site. Volunteers will be tasked with assisting museum paleontologists in uncovering the latest discoveries and preparing them for research. An orientation for anyone interested in volunteering will be held Saturday, April 5, at 11 a.m. at the museum.

“Our volunteers have been wonderful,” said Dr. Blaine Schubert, museum director. “Because of our outstanding volunteer participation in both our lab and operations areas, and the need for field assistance this year, we decided to offer this opportunity for the public. We believe that with volunteer help, we can have a more successful season, engage the community and increase our discoveries.”

Volunteers will have the opportunity to assist with excavations at the Gray Fossil Site. Participants will be required to complete a training program in the preparation lab at the museum before being permitted to dig to ensure consistency in methods. Volunteers will also be involved with wet screening, a process by which museum paleontologists search for microfossils. Wet screening requires the ability to lift bags of sediment, which weigh about 50 lbs.

“Our volunteers get the opportunity to work alongside the paleontologists,” said Dr. Steven Wallace, site manager of the Gray Fossil Site. “Not only do they further their own education, but they help us with our research. We have even had volunteers find new species.”

“Besides the allure of making exciting discoveries, I have always found working at the Gray Fossil Site to be a great chance to meet interesting people of all ages and various walks of life, and work together as a team toward a common goal. Working here, I definitely feel like we are all part of a community,” said Shawn Haugrud, museum preparator, who will train the volunteers.

Brian Compton, museum surveyor/preparator, will survey all the finds and assist with excavations.

The Gray Fossil Site is unique because it is the only Miocene or Pliocene site in the entire Appalachian region, and one of the only fossil sites in North America that preserves a forest community. The next closest sites of similar age are in Florida and coastal Virginia.  Because of its unique nature, many exciting discoveries are being made, including new types of red pandas, alligators and bears.

Volunteers are invited to dig Tuesdays-Saturdays from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. However, hours may change as excavations progress.

The ETSU and General Shale Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site continually showcases the 5-million-year-old site and its unique ecosystem. Visitors are invited to observe live excavations in May through October. There are also many special events held at the museum, such as the monthly “Speaker Series,”  “Fossil and Artifact ID Nights” every other month, and many ongoing youth programs.

The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday 9 a.m. -5 p.m. and is located 1.8 miles off Exit 13 on Interstate 26. For more information, or for special assistance, call (866) 202-6223 or visit the museum at For assistance for those with disabilities, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at (423) 439-8346.

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