Museum Matters

Pictured here is Michael Karaus — the new curator of the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum. He will present two programs over the next two months covering fossils and the culture and heritage of the East Tennessee region.

A program entitled Tennessee Fossils will be given at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum on Saturday, Aug. 7, at 11 a.m. by Museum Curator Michael Karaus. He will offer the program for kids and adults alike.

The program is part of our Heritage School, sponsored by the C. Scott and Muriel Mayfield Family Foundation. Museum members can attend free, while non-members pay a $5 fee, which includes a tour of the Museum.

Karaus has recently stepped into the curator position at the museum after serving with us in various positions for the last three years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, and has worked as a graduate student at Kent State, Ohio, studying vertebrate paleontology. During his studies, he worked at the Cincinnati Museum Center in Ohio at their Museum of Natural History & Science.

Have you ever found a rock with a perfect imprint of a leaf or other type of vegetation? It might have been a fossil depending upon its age. Now is a great time to learn about the fossils that can be found in Tennessee and the places where you might find them.

Karaus will have some samples from his own collection and will give a slide show during the presentation. He began to collect fossils as a hobby, which grew into a serious interest that led him to a degree in geology. While geology is the study of earth and the processes that shape it, the subject of paleontology drew him to a deeper interest in fossils. He explained that the study is a part of geology taking its place in the academic world between rocks and biology.

This program Karaus brings us will be the beginning of a two-part series — the first giving basic fossil information and the search for fossils and then on Saturday, Sept. 8, will be a more in-depth to show the fascinating natural history and history of the East Tennessee region through a timeline that ends with Hernando de Soto’s expedition. His desire is to bring forward the connection between preserved life and living history.

Karaus explains that a fossil is usually a specimen that has aged over 10,000 years. He points out, however, that the fossil can very well be a specimen that still exists in the environment today. A fossil can be any preserved remains, impression, or trace of any once-living thing from a past geological age as termed by geologists. Fossils can vary in size from just a part of the being to a large skeleton.

When scientists examine fossils, they are interested in determining the age. They do this in many ways, one using radiometric dating, and another is stratigraphy where they decipher the age of the area the fossil was found by what has been naturally decaying around it. A fossil is formed by being trapped in sediment in which present minerals fill in gaps over time turning it to stone. Unlike archeological pieces found closer to the ground’s surface such as arrowheads, the fossil is discovered when the cover is eroded exposing the site.

Founded in 1982, the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum’s mission is to collect preserve and present artifacts, documents and other items related to the history of McMinn County and the region for the education and enrichments of its citizens and others.

For more information, visit our Facebook page, visit our website at or call us at 423-745-0329.

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