The Big Dig – Dates in July, August & September
The Big Dig is a one-of-a-kind, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, paleontology experience offered by Hands On! Discovery Center and the East Tennessee State University Museum of Natural History!

Participants (age 12 to adult) will have the opportunity to work alongside paleontologists and follow the process from beginning to end, from searching for fossils in the field to curating them in the museum collection.

For more information or to register, visit: https://visithandson.org/the-big-dig/  

Tuesday, August 27th, 4-6pm – Fossil & Artifact ID Night
You don’t have to be a paleontologist to find fossils, but identifying them is a different story.  Bring in any kind of rock, fossil, artifact, or mineral and scientists at the museum will provide space for the study of these finds. There will be an archaeologist, paleontologist, and geologist on site. The event is free and open to the public but does not include admission to exhibits.

Saturday, August 31st – Archaeology Day
The day will include a variety of activities and demonstrations for all ages. Scientists, students, and volunteers will display artifacts from Tennessee and beyond, demonstrate research methods using drones and remote sensing, and lead visitors in activities including spear-throwing and flintknapping. The event will feature experts from ETSU and the McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

At 11 am, there will be a public talk, “More than a Mutt: New insights into America’s earliest dogs,” presented by Dr. Chris Widga, regarding his research into the archaeological record of ancient Americans’ canine companions.

Activities will be on-going from 10am to 4pm. All Archaeology Day activities are free to the public. All activities are also included with admission to the Hands On! Discovery Center: $10 for adults and children 4 and older.

Monday, September 9th – Wednesday, September 11th – CLOSED for Deep Cleaning

Saturday, September 21st – Red Panda Day
Calling all Red Panda Rangers!  Join us in recognition of International Red Panda Day to learn more Red Pandas of the past and today, as well as their significance to the Gray Fossil Site and try out some Red Panda activities and crafts.  Programs announced periodically throughout each day.

For these and other events at Hands On! Discovery Center, please visit the Calendar of Events.

Ticket Information

Admission to the Gray Fossil Site is now included with admission to Hands On! Discovery Center.  Click here for ticket prices.

Plan Your Trip

Museum Hours

Gray Fossil Site exhibits are available during Hands On! Discovery Center hours:

Tuesday-Saturday 9am-5pm
Sunday 1pm-5pm
Monday 9am-5pm (during March, June, July, & August only)

Hands On! Discovery Center closed the following holidays:
New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Other Closings:
Please check our Facebook and Twitter pages for snow schedule closings

Membership Information

One-year memberships are available.

Click HERE to for more information or to purchase on-line (add-ons may be added at the front desk on your next visit)


Group Visits

If you are coming with a group of 10 or more paying guests, you may qualify for a group discount. For more information please visit our Group Visits page.



Dwarf Tapir, Tapirus polkensis
One of many species of tapir found at the Gray Fossil Site

What is the Gray Fossil Site?

The Gray Fossil Site is a place where visitors can view and learn about an active Pliocene-era fossil dig site. Scientists believe the site was formed by an underground limestone cave that collapsed and created a sinkhole. This left a vast fossil deposit that dates back approximately 5 million years ago. Animals that have been unearthed so far include: saber tooth cat, alligator, tapir, rhinoceros, short-faced bear, and a mastodon as well as hundreds of plants and other animals.

Come by to learn more about this incredible discovery!

For More Info, visit the ETSU Center for Excellence in Paleontology.

12. volunteer crew in rhino pit

A volunteer crew excavating the Rhino Pit at the Gray Fossil Site Museum and Visitor Center


Party Tapir, Tapirus celebratius
A special species of tapir only found at the Gray Fossil Site

Birthday Parties

Looking for a truly unique and memorable venue? We are now offering Paleo-themed Birthday Parties!  Visit our Birthday Party page to learn more


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We offer the perfect venue for your unique corporate, community, or private event!