A few hundred yards away from the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center sits a large plaster cube. And while that may not sound all that exciting, the contents inside could hold much information about life in the area as far back as 7 million years ago. "What we have is a juvenile or baby animal of a tapir that was found in august of this year," says Brett Woodward, collections manager at the Gray fossil site.
Finding bits of a juvenile fossil is not uncommon at the site. "We have lots of young individual pieces and parts that we find lying around," says Woodward, "but we haven't had a young individual like this completely together." Woodward says a young volunteer digger found the fossil in August, but they didn't realize how lucky they were at first. "What was first found was the skull of the animal," Woodward says, "and as we continued to excavate around the skull, we continued to find more and more of the skeleton, and it turned out to be a complete animal." He adds that while complete adult animal fossils are often found, finding a juvenile skeleton intact is extremely rare. "It's pretty rare for a baby tapir, or any baby animal to be fully fossilized," says Woodward, "because baby animals, the bones just generally don't survive the fossilization process"