The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Atlanta, Georgia
October 8, 2000
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee - University of Tennessee experts have substantially
pushed back the age of an archaeological site in rural northeast
Tennessee to at least 4.5 million years.
The change from several thousand years old to several million came
with the identification of bones from as many as three long-extinct
Such specimens rarely have been found east of the Mississippi River,
and never before in Tennessee.
''It is emerging as a nationally significant fossil site,'' state
archaeologist Nick Fielder said of the plot unearthed in May during
the widening of Tenn. 75 near Gray, about 100 miles north of Knoxville.
''We anticipate finding a great deal of information about this
early time period, the Miocene Age, which has never been worked
on in Tennessee before.''
An assortment of leg bones, jawbones and teeth initially thought
to belong to a sloth that lived until the last ice age, about 10,000
years ago, have been identified as those of waist-high prehistoric
''We definitely have a rhinoceros,'' University of Tennessee anthropologist
Walter Klippel said. ''We don't know what kind,'' he added. ''But
we know that it is one that died out during the late Hemphillian"
--- an age ending about 4.5 million years ago.
Klippel and Paul Parmalee, emeritus director of the university's
McClung Museum, are collecting and examining the fossils from the
Gray site at their Knoxville laboratory.
They recently shipped a rhino jawbone to University of Nebraska
paleontologist Mike Voorhies to help pin down the type of rhino
found. Voorhies was lead researcher on a spectacular find in the
1960s in Nebraska that is now Ashfall Fossil Beds state park.
''This is basically how science works,'' Fielder said. ''You keep
re- evaluating, reinspecting and getting new information. Then you
can change your explanations or your theories to fit the new evidence.''
The scientists believe the five-acre site in Gray --- once a watering
hole over a sinkhole as much as 150 feet deep --- is an archaeologist's
Gov. Don Sundquist has ordered the site protected with a declaration
to move the road, allowing scientists to explore the site at their
leisure for years to come.
Hundreds of fossils have been found, including whole skeletons
of tapirs --- a hoofed, hoglike mammal whose descendants live in
Other fossils suggest: an animal in the elephant family that predated
the mastodon, an early crocodile, a weasel-like creature, a tortoise
and a fish.
With the site guarded, scientists can move ahead with plans for
cataloging what has been found --- including fossils picked up by
area residents --- and plotting more meticulous excavations.
The next discoveries from Gray will be revealed with brushes and
trowels, not bulldozers, he said. ''There are years and years of