Paleo-Mania in Tennessee

Kids dig it!

Just imagine a bear that stands 12-feet tall with claws big enough to toss a human like a basketball. Millions of years ago giant short-faced bears did roam eastern Tennessee.  Evidence has been uncovered about this massive animal, a newly identified smaller species of bear, and many other Ice Age giants at the Gray Fossil Site in Johnson City Tennessee.

Discovered during road construction in the spring of 2000, the area was a former limestone cave that collapsed making a sinkhole and creating perfect conditions for fossilizing animals of the era. The state of Tennessee abandoned the road location, evaluated the site, and is now funding continuing research in the area estimated to be between 4.5-7 million years old.

The Giant Short-Face Bear.

The active dig site has proved to be the largest in the U.S. for fossilized tapir remains. Other animal remains found include saber tooth cats, alligators, rhinos, red pandas, and giant sloths. Current work is extensive and ranges from identifying a new species of turtle to processing a 16-ton mastodon.

Mastodon fossils.

Large windows allow visitors to easily view the scientific collection room and research/prep lab and with just a few steps outdoors visitors find the active dig site.  We had a chance to speak with the interesting, knowledgeable Lab & Field Manager Shawn Haugrud. If we had known about the tours of the dig site we would’ve definitely participated. Next time.

The interactive Hands On Discovery Center for children now shares facilities with the scientists and offers enhanced programs for kids of all ages including Paleo birthday parties and a chance to “dig” in.

For museum hours and fees, visit:

For behind the scenes pictures and stories check out their podcast:

The Research Lab.

One Comment on “Paleo-Mania in Tennessee

  1. Wow! We didn’t know about this place. It’s definitely if interest to us and we will go there!

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