Our Upcoming Speaker
Note: Since October 2022, we have returned to in-person meetings at the Birmingham Zoo using a hybrid Zoom-In Person format with the in-person meeting at the Lodge at the Birmingham Zoo
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 11, 2023 at 7:00 PM Central Time USA
Title: "The Gray Fossil Site – the Pliocene Lost World of East Tennessee"
Speaker: Matt Inabinett, Collections Manager at the Gray Fossil Site & Museum
Abstract: Unintentionally unearthed in 2000 during roadwork by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the Gray Fossil Site (GFS) in northeast Tennessee is one of the most significant Neogene paleontological discoveries in eastern North America. The fossiliferous deposit covers ~2ha (~4.5 acres) and represents the clay infilling of a system of sinkhole ponds formed in the region’s Cambro-Ordovician karst. This sinkhole fill preserves a great abundance of faunal, floral, fungal, and algal remains indicative of a forested environment of early Pliocene age (~4.9-4.5Ma). The GFS paleoenvironment appears to have been somewhat warmer and wetter than the region today, and includes numerous Asian taxa (e.g., hickories, moonseeds, red pandas, meline badgers) along with a Neotropical influence (e.g., passionflowers, beaded lizards). More than 100 species of animals and more than 100 species of plants have been discovered at GFS so far, collected through annual fieldwork including extensive wetscreening of all excavated sediment to facilitate the collection of microfossils. More than 20 new species have been published from the site, which is managed as part of East Tennessee State University and has an on-site museum with a fossil preparation lab and collections range. Late Neogene fossil sites, especially continental ones, are rare in eastern North America, so the wealth of material at GFS – much of it exquisitely preserved – makes it an especially valuable resource in understanding ecosystems of this time, particularly in Appalachia, where it is the only site of its age and thus provides the first window into a truly lost world.
About the Author: I grew up in Spanish Fort, Alabama, and have always been interested in wildlife, which quickly led to an interest in paleontology. I earned my bachelor’s degree in geology in 2018 from Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and my master’s degree in geosciences with a concentration in paleontology in 2020 from East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. I have spent nine years working in natural history museums – as a museum docent at the Beneski Museum of Natural History from 2014-2018, and as a collections assistant at the Gray Fossil Site & Museum from 2018-2023. I am currently acting as the collections manager at the Gray Fossil Site & Museum. My academic interests are primarily focused on the morphological variation and evolution of mastodons, especially in the Southeast. I am also actively involved in local and regional museums groups, both the Northeast Tennessee Museum Association (NETMA) and the Tennessee Association of Museums (TAM).