National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Southeastern Section Newsletter
Email Edition - Summer / Fall 2002


The Frank H. McClung Museum at the UT Knoxville campus recently unveiled a new permanent gallery "Geology and the Fossil History of Tennessee" and a temporary exhibit featuring the Burgess Shale - on loan from the Smithsonian through December 1.  Admission to the museum is free; museum hours are 9-5, Monday-Saturday, 1-5 Sunday.

The temporary exhibit - "Burgess Shale: Evolution's Big Bang" features a small selection of specimens from the Smithsonian's collection from this spectacular Middle Cambrian formation, plus abundant artwork showing reconstructions of many of the animals.  Other components include the historical changes in biologic interpretations of some of the Burgess animals, such as Halucigenia

The permanent gallery is a dazzling array of specimens, dioramas, and artwork designed to engage visitors of all backgrounds.  The general geology section includes a brief introduction to minerals - with excellent specimens from the Elmwood Mine, near
Carthage, Tennessee.  The rock cycle component and the geologic map of Tennessee now exist in a temporary mode.  Museum educator Debbie Woodiel is working on an interactive rock cycle exhibit, and the ultimate version of the geologic map will feature a laser-cut relief map derived from a massive computer file of elevation data, with surface geology painted on.

Above these exhibits are two large plasma screens - the first featuring the "Earth Bulletins" feed from the
American Museum of Natural History in New York.  Earth Bulletins provides information about plate tectonics, includes weekly updates of earthquakes and volcanic activity, and has rotating feature stories - the current one on the solar system.  The second screen offers two videos - the first is an animated continental reconstruction from 700 million years ago to 250 million years in the future (hint - Pangea III looks like a thick donut), based on the frequently seen work of Chris Scotese.   The second, "Becoming a Fossil," is an animation of the life, death, taphonomy, diagenesis, and collection of a dinosaur - created by artist and animator Richard Green.

The remainder - and largest part - of the gallery is devoted to the geologic periods represented by surface deposits across Tennessee.  The Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian, Pennsylvanian, and Cretaceous are each represented by important fossil specimens accompanying a life-size diorama, explanatory text, a paleocontinental reconstruction, and a map showing locations of rocks across the state.  Marine dioramas typically are based on particular rock formations - Cambrian is based on the Nolichucky Shale, Silurian is based on the Brownsport Formation, and the Cretaceous is based on the Coon Creek Formation.  The large Pennsylvanian diorama portrays a coal swamp forest setting, with lycopods, seed ferns, large insects, and an amphibian.

The center of the gallery focuses on vertebrate life of the Mesozoic, including the five hadrosaur bones, which remain the only dinosaur bones reported from Tennessee. High quality casts of a hadrosaur skull (Edmontosaurus) and a theropod skull (Albertosaurus - which has been found in the southeast) are augmented by real specimens of ornithopod and theropod eggs from China. A large, complete, hadrosaur tibia from the western US is available for visitors, who would like to touch a real dinosaur bone. Hovering overhead and leering downward toward the gallery entrance is a complete mosasaur skeleton cast.

Cenozoic fossils are not neglected. There is an exhibit of Claiborne Formation leaves and seeds from the famous clay pits at Puryear, Tennessee. Next is an exhibit of Miocene/Pliocene vertebrate remains from the famous "Gray Site" near Johnson City, featuring bones and teeth of tapirs, rhinoceras, gomphothere elephants, turtles, alligators, and a turkey. A painted mural of the sink hole - lake, one of the interpretations of the Gray Site environment, accompanies the specimens. Finally, a case containing Pleistocene specimens includes mastodon, dire wolf, jaguar, caribou plus porcupine, bulfrog, and a land snail. Paleovegetational analysis of pollen grains by Hazel and Paul Delcourt rounds out the depiction of the last 20,000 years of Tennessee's fossil history. UT geology professor Tom Broadhead is curator for the permanent gallery exhibits.


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Winter-Spring 2003 Newletter Deadline: Jan.31, 2003. Please send news, items, questions, & answers to

Georgia Field Trips

Georgia Geological Society Fieldtrip is Oct 11-13, 2002, to the Blue Ridge and Piedmont of eastern Pickens, Dawson, and western Lumpkin Counties, including the Dahlonega Gold Belt and the Marble mines of the Tate-Marble Hill mining district. For more information contact John Costello (404-657-6137).

Atlanta Geological Society Fall Field Trip is November 23, 2002 to the Pottsville Formation and it will consist of a visit to Cloudland Canyon State Park in northwestern Georgia and other localities in northwestern Georgia and northeastern Alabama. For more information contact Carl Froede, 404-562-8550.

Minigrants ($) - The Georgia Mineral Society offers the Norman Sandford Pottinger Earth Science Education Minigrants. More information at

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Summer / Fall 2002 main page.
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