Gray Site

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum at ten years

The tenth anniversary of the opening of the Museum finds it a mature institution with extensive public outreach and a history of contributions within the field of vertebrate paleontology and other disciplines. Many local students, and volunteers of all ages are employed.

Overview of the present excavation area. The "Mastodon Pit" is currently being excavated on the right. The yellowish material, weathered Gray Site clays, yields poorly preserved mastodon material. In some cases there is little remaining outside of tooth enamel. The middle left structure used to cover the "Rhino Pit"


A closer look at the active part of the excavation. Yellow is Mastodon remains, blue is any other fossil material. The mastodon remains appear to be concentrated around the angular boulders of the dense dolomitic country rock, however any causitive relation may be difficult to establish.



All excavated material is bagged and screened by a large volunteer staff in water filled basins using specially designed and manufactured screening boxes. Anything too large to pass through a window-screen sized mesh is examined and later picked through with a binocular microscope in the laboratory. A multitude of small bones and fragments are recovered. Small polished stones interpreted to be gastroliths from birds have also been found.


Laboratory from the perspective of the public viewing area. The long picture window overlooks the fossil dig.



Plaster jacket holding a very elongate mastodon skull moved to the laboratory. In life the tusks were attached to the far end. There is a gray tooth visible sticking out near the far right edge.



The laboratory area during a tour, with a volunteer working. Note the huge mastodon mandible partly concealed behind the light supports. See below.



A view of the mandible. The white areas are held together by Butvar and webbing.



Reconstruction of a partial mastodon foot.



View from public window into the specimen storage room, which is adjacent to the laboratory. A few of the objects left lying out are below.

Partial tapir skull, reconstructed with Butvar.

Mastodon tooth, primarily the enamel.

Very weathered mastodon tooth enamel, recovered from oxidized portions of the clay, and reconstructed. These fragments document the presence of multiple individuals.


Partial alligator skull.


The public display area features a cavernous walk-through display, interestingly lit to suggest a forested environment, and featuring skeletal reconstructions of the fauna at the time the Gray Site animal trap was functioning.


Another view with the muddy-swampy ground. The public galery presentation then continues, transitioning to the more recent geological past (not shown).

It also features a "laboratory" allowing kids access at close quarters to the painstaking work of exposing and reconstructing fossil material.

The museum also curates fossils from the excavations at Saltville, Virginia, which are much more recent geologically.

The Saltville site has been known about for over two centuries and systematically dug for over a hundred years. Within a meter or so of the surface, there is a lower level of angular gravels that contains disarticulated remains. This is overlain by sands, and then clays containing more pristine fossil material, some of which has been found to preserve useful DNA. Please see for more information. The site has also been interpreted as a pre-Clovis archaeological site, but this is now being disputed. See for findings from the most current digs.

External grounds


The new Conference Center annex.


A fountain / water feature featuring turtles, alligators, and bas reliefs by General Shale’s resident brick sculptor, Johnny Hagerman.


Rock garden with rock specimens of general geologic interest.

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