Introduction Text

We are happy to answer questions about the ETSU Museum of Natural History, the Gray Fossil Site, our research, and our education opportunities. Here, we provide answers to some of the more common questions we encounter. 


The Center of Excellence in Paleontology (CoEP) is an academic and educational institution within the College of Arts and Sciences at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). The Center is composed of a large, diverse group of researchers, staff, students, technicians, and volunteers from around the globe, united under the shared mission of recruiting students, educating the public, raising funds, and producing high-quality research on fossil localities around the world.

The ETSU Museum of Natural History (ETMNH) is a component of the CoEP, located at the Gray Fossil Site (GFS) roughly 13 miles from the main ETSU campus. The ETMNH serves as a facility for the collection, preservation, research, and long-term care of fossil material from the GFS and other fossil localities, and also as a center of science education for ETSU students and the general public.


The Gray Fossil Site (GFS) is a one-of-a-kind paleontological resource preserving the remains of hundreds of extinct species that lived in East Tennessee 5 million years ago. Discovered in 2000 during road construction, the site is now home to the East Tennessee State University Museum of Natural History (ETMNH) and the Hands On! Discovery Center. It is a hub of science education and research.

Fossil excavation, preparation, cataloguing, and research are facilitated by a combination of ETSU faculty curators, museum staff, ETSU graduate and undergraduate students, and a veritable army of around 100 volunteers from the local community. The unique work that gets done at GFS is truly a collaborative effort.

Geological research has revealed that the site preserves the remains of an ancient water-filled sinkhole that served as a local watering hole for thousands of years around 5 million years ago. Fossil research shows that the pond was home to a unique ecosystem of over 200 identified types of plants and animals, including an ever-growing list of extinct species brand new to science. Some of our famous fossils include rhinos, mastodons, tapirs, turtles, alligators, and Appalachian panda.