Discovering the Gray Fossil Museum

A Day Away by Mike Steely

Sometimes important discoveries are made totally by accident. That’s what happened north of Johnson City in the Gray community during earthmoving for a new road. In 2000 the state was grading in that area and uncovered a huge clay deposit about five acres in area and at least 100 feet deep.

Layers of fossils including bones, teeth and organic remains were found, and work halted. Then Governor Don Sunquist and ETSU President Paul Stanton got the road construction moved and promoted funding to create a museum.

Millions of years ago the area was under a shallow ocean and later a sinkhole formed in the limestone. A pool there lured ancient animals to the site and many died there. The natural burial of the animals created a “time capsule” sealed in the clay.

The Gray Fossil Site and Museum opened in 2007. Even today workers and students work to unearth, preserve and curate the thousands of fossils still being unearthed. An observation balcony behind the museum allows visitors to view the excavation pits.

What was found?

More than 100 species of now-vanished animals and plants were found and identified.  Among the finds were red pandas, wolverines, slider turtles, tapirs, rhinos, mastodons, alligators and many smaller animals.

In 2018 the Hands On! Discovery Center opened at the Gray Fossil site. The Discovery Center is partnered with the museum and ETSU as part of its expanded educational effort.  The center includes interactive exhibits and a 12,000-square-foot addition.

Admission to the museum is $11 for adults and children. Discounts are available and you may want to ask or check your qualifications on the museum’s website. The museum offers special events, tours, and exhibits, and has a gift shop. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Sundays.

The Gray Fossil Museum is located at 1212 Suncrest Drive, just south of I-81 and just west of I-26 at Exit 13 in Gray, Tennessee.

You can contact the museum at (423) 434-4263 or find them online at