The museum hosts a monthly lecture series featuring local and internationally-renowned speakers. Lectures are hosted at varying times to accommodate the travel schedules of our guest speakers.
S.D. Dean, Archaeologist
Saturday, June 1st at noon
"Archaeological Investigations in Sullivan County"
S.D. Dean has spent his career excavating and researching various sites in East Tennessee. Before Dean's excavations there had been very little work within the professional archaeological community regarding upper East Tennessee. His career has included several meticulous excavations from salvage efforts at Linville Cave to research investigations at Eastman Rockshelter, both in Sullivan County.
His salvage excavations at Linville Cave revealed several intact deposits that were dated from the Woodland Period, which ranged from 1000 B.C. to 700 A.D. as well as some deposits from the late Pleistocene, which ranged from 2 million years ago to 12,000 years ago..
Dean is recognized in the scientific community for his work at the Eastman Rockshelter, where he processed over 250 tons of sediment.
It was a very successful excavation because he found various stone and ceramic artifacts as well as animal deposits, which were ranging from the Early Archaic through the Mississippian Period, or from about 8,000 B.C. –1,600 A.D.
Dean will also have a small collection of artifacts he has found through the years in Sullivan County, which consists of numerous arrowheads and ancient pottery, on display during his presentation.
Dr. Larisa DeSantis, Vertebrate Paleontologist, Vanderbilt University
Saturday, March 30th at noon
"Mammalian Responses to Climate Change during the Pleistocene"
Larisa DeSantis is a vertebrate paleontologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her interdisciplinary research focuses on understanding the ecology of mammalian communities around the world through time. She examines modern ecosystems to better understand fossil communities and uses the fossil record to inform scientists about animal and plant responses to climate change.
Today, climate change affects the distribution of plants and animals. While ecologists and conservation biologists aim to assess current effects of climate change, paleontologists use the fossil record to understand how plants and animals responded to past climate changes.
Using chemical signatures locked in the teeth of extinct mammals and their microscopic wear patterns left during the process of food, DeSantis will discuss how she and her colleagues have documented mammalian responses to climate change during the Pleistocene Epoch, which took place from about 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago.
DeSantis received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley (B.S.), Yale University (M.E.M.), and the University of Florida (Ph.D.). She has also worked with paleontologists at ETSU and the Gray Fossil Site since 2004 and enjoys applying paleoecological methods to better understand the Gray Fossil Site and occupying mammals. When DeSantis is not in the laboratory or field, she enjoys communicating her research to students and the public through educational outreach. Her work has been featured all over the world, including Russia, India, China, and numerous countries in North America, Europe, and South America.
Dr. David Jennings, Lecturer, ETSU, Department of Geosciences
Saturday, March 23rd at noon
"Wild, Wild Weather"
Dramatic weather events are a normal part of everyday life and are representative of the natural processes on our Earth. Often when wild weather happens, the impact on human actions and the environment are quite intense, and sometimes tragic; therefore, it is important to understand the causes of these events and how we can remain safe when they occur. On the other hand, we do not have all the answers about how and why dramatic weather events develop as they do. Consequently, we try to study weather events with a variety of techniques in order to save as many lives as possible.
David Jennings is a Lecturer in the Department of Geoscience at East Tennessee State University. A native of Florida and East Tennessee, he is an eclectic geographer and teaches courses in Earth Science, Meteorology, Cultural Geography, and Regional Geography. An award winning teacher and speaker, he has lead numerous field courses ranging from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, Central America, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands. His research has focused on topics of weather and climate, human-environment interactions, meteorological hazards, southern pine beetles, modeling vegetation dynamics with GIS, and resource management.
Dr. Mick Whitelaw, Associate Professor, ETSU, Department of Geosciences
Saturday, January 26th at noon (rescheduled from January 18)
"Geology of the Gray Fossil Site"
Mick Whitelaw is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences at ETSU and Curator of Geology at the Gray Fossil Site. He currently teaches Sedimentation and Stratigraphy, Structural Geology, Plate Tectonics, Geophysics, Geologic Evolution of North America and Geology Field Methods at ETSU. He received a B.S. in Geology from Monash University, Australia in 1983 and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida in 1990. His dissertation research employed magnetic polarity stratigraphy methods to date Pliocene and Pleistocene vertebrate fossil sites in southeastern Australia. His research interests at Gray are focused on characterizing the geology of the site and this includes determining its size, subsurface structure, stratigraphy and fill history.
The Gray Fossil Site is the product of karst geologic activity where groundwater dissolves limestone and causes caves and sinkholes to form. The site occurs on the SE limb of a fold created within the Cambro-Ordovician Knox Group carbonates ca. 350 million years ago. It is likely that the folding of the rock created a network of joint fractures within the limestone that then acted as conduits for groundwater flow. Continued dissolution within these fractures led to collapse of overlying carbonate rock and formation of multiple sinkholes over a protracted period of time. Individual sinkholes acted as depocenters that were filled with sediments which also preserved invertebrate, vertebrate and floral material. Drilling and a gravity survey conducted at the site clearly indicate that the site exists as a complex of different-age overlapping sinkhole fill sequences.
Dr. Christopher Brochu, University of Iowa
Saturday, December 15, 6:00 p.m.
"Myth of the Living Fossil: Perspectives on the Deep History of Crocodylia"
Christopher Brochu is a vertebrate paleontologist and systematist who studies the evolutionary history of crocodylians – crocodiles, alligators, and gharials and their close extinct relatives – based on anatomical, fossil, and molecular evidence. He obtained his BS at the University of Iowa in 1989 and his MA (1992) and PhD (1997) at the University of Texas. He spent three years at the Field Museum in Chicago, where he worked on the largest, most complete skeleton of Tyrannosaurus ever found ("Sue"). He has been on the faculty at the University of Iowa since 2001.
Crocodylians - alligators, crocodiles, gharials, and their closest extinct relatives - are often perceived as "living fossils" unchanged since the Age of the Dinosaurs. In fact, Crocodylia first appeared toward the end of this Age and its subsequent history reveals unexpected complexity. Crocodylian diversity waxed and waned as climate changed and several groups evolved adaptations very different from those seen today. They crossed large ocean barriers multiple times and they were the largest predators faced by our African ancestors. Construction of a comprehensive history for the group will allow us to explore the interrelationships of evolution, climate, and environment on a global scale.
Dr. Melissa Rice, postdoctoral scholar in the Division of Geological and Planetary
Sciences at the California Institute of Technology
November 23 at 1:00 p.m.
NASA's Mars rovers have reshaped our vision of the Red Planet with their stunning images and fascinating discoveries. Amazingly, the Mars Exploration Rover "Opportunity" - which was designed to operate for three months in 2004 - has now been exploring for over eight years. The Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" rover just landed on August 5, and its first months on the planet have been a stunning success. Join Dr. Melissa Rice for a behind-the-scenes look at the images, science and human creativity that have made these missions such a success. Using remarkable photos taken by the "Pancam" and "Mastcam" instruments, she'll share the inside story of the missions - from the launches right up to the latest pictures returned from the Martian surface.
David Moscato, graduate student in the ETSU Department of Geosciences M.S. program
November 2 at 12:00 p.m.
David Moscato, paleontology graduate student at ETSU, will speak about his research, which
is focused on snake and lizard fossils from a select set of caves in southern China and
documenting these species' evolution through the Ice Age. He will also share his experience
studying abroad this summer at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology
in Beijing, China.
Jeffrey Martin, graduate student in the ETSU Department of Geosciences M.S. program
October 5th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.
"Geologia y Paleontologia de Canal de Panama" (Geology and Paleontology of the Panama Canal)
Dr. Leopoldo Soibelzon, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, CONICET and the La Plata Museum of Natural History
September 11th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.
The Integration and Evolution of Land Mammal Communities in South America from K-T Boundary to the Present
Dr. Soibelzon is an Adjunct Researcher and Professor at the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, CONICET and the La Plata Museum of Natural History, Argentina. Much of his research centers around ancient South American carnivores, especially fossil bears. Soibelzon has worked closely with ETSU Natural History Museum and Center of Excellence in Paleontology director, Dr. Blaine Schubert, on the fossil record and evolution of short-faced bears. Recently the two published a paper on the largest known bear ever recorded, a giant short-faced bear from the Ice Age of South America. During Soibelzon's visit they will be continuing their work on short-faced bears, finalizing a manuscript on the bear from the Gray Fossil Site with one of the museum curators, Dr. Steven Wallace.
The lecture will discuss ideas that shed light on what has been described as "an interesting mixture of creatures... fascinating to almost everyone". The "strange mammals" that George Gaylord Simpson referred to in his 1980 work "Splendid Isolation" have proven a source of intrigue to scientists, and especially to Dr. Soibelzon. His "broken zig-zag" hypothesis (in which humans broke the zig-zag) attributes the major mega-mammal extinction of the last Ice Age to moderate hunting pressure by humans in a specific time of rapidly warming climate.
Dr. Gary L. Stringer, University of Lousiana at Monroe
August 9th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.
The Importance of Otoliths for Interpreting Fossil Fishes: An Example from the Late Cretaceous Coon Creek Site in Tennessee
Dr. Stringer is Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and serves as the Curator of the Geosciences Division of the ULM Museum of Natural History. He is internationally recognized in the field of paleoichthyology, the study of fossil fishes. Much of his research centers on the ear stones or otoliths of fossil fishes. In his illustrious career, he has had both the pleasure of naming new fossil fish species (over 20) and having them named after him (Pogonias stringeri and "genus Trachichthyidarum" stringeri).
Stringer's talk will present evidence of otoliths of fossil fishes collected from the Late Cretaceous Coon Creek Fossil Site in McNairy County Tennessee of about 70 million years ago. Ear stones in living fishes are important for balance and movement, but are important in the study of fossil fishes as well. Information preserved in these stones can differentiate between species as well as give us clues about the age, habitat and spawning habits of a fish.
Dr. Alex Hastings, University of Florida
July 10th, 2012 at 12:00 p.m.
Fossil Crocodilians of the Neotropics: Tapping into an Unknown Diversity
The New World Tropics today harbors the world's greatest diversity of crocodylians, however, their fossil record in northern South America has been virtually non-existent prior to the Miocene. Sixty million-year-old fossil crocodyliforms from Colombia shed light on a now-extinct lineage that dominated the landscape alongside the world's largest snake, Titanoboa. In the Miocene of Panama, new fossils indicate the origin of the South American caiman and provide new insight into their origin and early radiation.
Alex Hastings is graduating this summer with a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Florida. His dissertation research has been on 60 million-year-old fossil crocodilians of Colombia, and he has also worked on 18-million-year old caimans from Panama and 4,000-year old crocodiles of The Bahamas.