ETSU hosts inaugural southeastern paleontology conference June 18-21, honors former Gov. Don Sundquist

JOHNSON CITY—East Tennessee State University’s Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology and the ETSU Office of Professional Development will host the inaugural Southeastern Association of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference scheduled Wednesday through Saturday, June 18-21.

The conference opens with a 6 p.m. reception on June 18, at the ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site, and concludes with a June 21 excursion to Ice Age fossil sites in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

ETSU’s more than five acres at the Gray Fossil Site is late Miocene in age, between 4.5 and 7 million years old. Core samples indicate the huge deposit — 100 to 140 feet deep — contains fossilized remains of an entire ecosystem and several new species of plants and animals that range in size from tiny pollen and seeds to red pandas, tapirs, alligators and rhinos.

On June 19 at 6 p.m., in the auditorium of the Johnson City Power Board (JCPB), 2600 Boones Creek Road, Dr. James Farlow will present a public talk, “It Came from the Sinkhole: A Glimpse of Hoosier Wildlife Before the Ice Age.” Farlow, a professor of geology at Indiana-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, coordinates the study of fossil plants and animals from the Late Neogene Pipe Creek Sinkhole site in northern Indiana.

The highlight on June 20 will be a dinner in Jonesborough honoring former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist. When the Gray Fossil Site was discovered by state highway road crews in 2000, Sundquist ensured that the roadbed’s location was altered so formal exploration of the unique site could begin. He played an important role again, with assistance in securing $8 million in vital funding through the Tennessee Department of Transportation for construction of ETSU’s new fossil site museum, research facility and visitor center which opened to the public on Labor Day weekend in 2007.

The dinner speaker will be Dr. Bruce McFadden, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida in Gainesville. He will address “Fossil Adventures Along the Panama Canal,” focusing on extensive new excavations in fossiliferous deposits which began there in 2007.  McFadden is a past president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Conference sponsors include the JCPB, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the ETSU and GSB Natural History Museum and Visitor Center.

For further information, or assistance for those with disabilities, contact Darla Dye in the ETSU Office of Professional Development at 423-439-8025 or toll free 800-222-3878.