Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The Gray Fossil Museum (Officially the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum Visitors Center at the Gray Fossil Site) is a wonderful, and relatively new, installation centered around the area’s only Miocene-era fossil site.
Found by accident by road crews in 2000, the site was originally believed to be a fairly common Pleistocene-era deposit, but the discovery of the remains of crocodiles and other Miocene animals dated the site to about 5 million years ago. The road was re-routed, and the Gray Fossil Site visitor’s center was constructed.
Open to the public, the museum features a variety of interactive, informative, high-quality exhibits for visitors of all ages. In addition to touring the museum, one can visit the working dig where volunteers and students continue to unearth fossils and take a peek into the lab where the fossils are preserved.
The visitor’s center includes a film explaining the history and discovery of the site, a large area with reconstructed ancient animals in a fantastic, dramatically lit display showing the world they would have inhabited, numerous hands-on activities for children and adults, and a lab area demonstrating the way fossils are cleaned and preserved as well as allowing visitors to try their hands at fossil identification.
In early spring of 2009, the Junkies visited the Gray Fossil site, and we all had a wonderful time. We were all very impressed with the quality of the exhibits, which were of the caliber of much larger institutions. The site offers a full complement of educational programs, special event programming, and visiting exhibits. Learn more about the site and current programs by visiting the website (which also includes some kids’ games)
From the historian’s point of view: Michael really liked the way the displays were laid out, and enjoyed the Appalachian alligator. Plus, it is nice that you can actually walk out the back door and see the excavation. These are not artifacts brought it; they came from underneath your feet, which is a powerful message in the museum world.
From the Educator’s point of view: Elizabeth was very impressed with this site, though it was a little hard for Isabella, in a stroller, to see everything, and it was hard to keep her attention in one spot if she was out of the stroller! The exhibits certainly provide a dazzling and educational visit to the Miocene era, as well as helping even young visitors understand the work done by paleontologists. Particularly impressive was the “dig” area in which children could “excavate” fossils. The “dirt” was actually chunks of recycled rubber, a perfect medium as it did not get the children dirty or hurt them. It was also impressive to see the lab where the fossils are cleaned and see the wonderful variety of creatures who lived in the area in distant past.
From the eight-year-old’s point of view: Nathaniel really enjoyed this museum. He liked all the hands-on displays, as well as the fearsome poses of the mounted fossils! He was particularly impressed with the real dig and the lab areas.