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Volunteers needed to help dig up a mastodon (and accomplish other assorted tasks)

JOHNSON CITY – Paleontology enthusiasts are invited to volunteer with excavation and lab crews at the East Tennessee State University Gray Fossil Site and Museum.

A volunteer orientation session for prospective “paleontological assistants” is scheduled for Saturday, June 10, from 10 a.m.-noon at the museum.

Many volunteer positions are currently available, primarily assisting in the field, because of the recent discovery of a nearly complete mastodon skeleton, among several other individuals.  Gray Fossil Site paleontologists are seeking dedicated people to help recover this and other specimens.

Volunteers will work side-by-side with the crew, excavating the massive bones and wet-screening the sediment produced during the dig.

“These skeletons illustrate the ridiculous size of our mastodons, ranking among the largest terrestrial mammals ever found,” said Dr. Chris Widga, the new head curator at the museum and an expert on Proboscideans (elephants and their closest relatives).  “This new semi-articulated skeleton appears to be a male that was roughly four meters tall and nearly 16 metric tons.”

Dr. Steven Wallace, director of field operations at the Gray Fossil Site, joked, “We will need a small army to dig this guy out!”

By joining the museum team, volunteers become part of a unique group of dedicated individuals who can be found in nearly every area of the site.  Whether digging in the pits, screening sediment, picking concentrate, greeting visitors, guiding groups or working alongside museum curators, there are many important ways in which volunteers contribute.

The museum regularly offers volunteer training and orientation in the spring and fall, but the June 10 session has been scheduled as an “extra push” because of the new mastodon skeleton.

Training and orientation is required, and the museum cannot accept new volunteers outside of the orientation dates.  Volunteers must be 15 or older.

Regular hours at the Gray Fossil Site and Museum, located 1.8 miles off Exit 13 on Interstate 26, are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

For more information, email Shawn Haugrud, laboratory and field manager, at [email protected] or call 423-439-3661 and leave a voice message.