Gray Fossil Site  volunteers can help uncover the ancient past

A fossil tapir toe bone found in the screens. Many of the Gray Fossil Site’s most important finds come out of wet-screening, including fossils of alligators, red pandas, bears and more.

Individuals who would like to join East Tennessee State University’s world-class team of paleontologists exploring the ancient history of East Tennessee are invited to volunteer this fall at the Gray Fossil Site and Museum.

The Gray Fossil Site preserves the remains of an ancient pond containing fossils of rhinos, mastodons, alligators, red pandas and many other animals, as well as plants. Every year, the combination of field and lab work reveals thousands of new fossils, and most of this work is done by volunteers.

This fall, volunteers are needed for the crucial task of screening – sifting through the ancient pond sediment to separate out fossils. This process is essential, since digging and lab work would both come to a halt without screening.

Many of the site’s most research-worthy fossils are found via screening, including the exceptional remains of red pandas, turtles, rodents, wolverines, snakes, plant seeds and more.

This year’s volunteers will have the opportunity to screen material from the Gray Fossil Site’s most productive area in recent years – the Mastodon Pit – where excavation has uncovered new fossils of rhinos, alligators and snapping turtles, in addition to mastodons.

Volunteer screeners will work in well-ventilated outdoor areas, with plenty of space for maintaining a safe social distance from others. Volunteers should be prepared to perform minor physical labor and to spend at least three consecutive hours working. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. No prior experience is required.

This year, the field crew hopes to screen through 800 bags of sediment by the end of October, and volunteers can help them reach that target.

Those interested should visit etmnh.org/support/volunteer to learn more and access a volunteer application form, which they may complete and email to Shawn Haugrud at haugrud@etsu.edu.