GRAY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Crews at the Gray Fossil site are known for their massive contribution to the understanding of the ancient ecosystem that predated the Tri-Cities, but recent publications in the paleontology world highlight the little things: tiny moles that burrowed through the area millions of years ago.

According to a press release from East Tennessee State University (ETSU), doctoral student/ETSU alum Danielle Oberg and site curator Dr. Joshua Samuels published a new study of the many tiny tooth and bone fossils found at the site in the peer-reviewed journal Palaeontologia Electronica.

Throughout their studies, the release said Oberg and Samuels identified four types of now-extinct moles that once roamed the hills of Appalachia. Two moles were completely new to science, meaning they have not been identified elsewhere.

The fossilized lower jaw of a Neurotrichus. (Photo/Josh Samuels)

The variety of moles found isn’t usually this diverse, Oberg said in the release.

“Mole species are usually tied to environmental conditions and soil types,” Oberg said. “This many species at one site is quite special.”

Each new species is named by the researchers that discover them, and tributes to the site are clear:

  • Parascalops grayensis
  • Magnatalpa fumamons (Roughly translates to smoky mountain in Latin)

The newly-described fumamons was an aquatic predator that spent its time swimming for prey, the release said. Modern-day relatives of fumamons can be found in Europe and Asia.

Parascalops grayensis is a relative of modern hairy-tailed moles, and the fossils found at the site are the oldest known evidence of the Genus.

The fossilized upper arm bone of grayensis. (Photo/Josh Samuels)

According to Oberg and Samuels’ study, two other species were found to be new to the area, but not science. Species of Neurotrichus and Mioscalops were found well outside of their previously-known regions.

“We have four different moles at the Gray Fossil Site, and the lifestyles of those moles are very different,” Samuels said. “This discovery helps improve our understanding of small predators living here in the Appalachian region about five million years ago.”

According to the release, many of the tiny bone and tooth fossils were found thanks to the site’s policy of screening all soil and sediment that was extracted from the site before disposal. The work of students and volunteers make the labor-intensive process possible, and Oberg was thankful for their help.

“It feels amazing to describe and name a new species, and I got to do it twice in one paper,” Oberg said. “I am excited for the dedicated team of wet-screeners and pickers to find even more material for us to publish on.”