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Report of prehistoric peccaries at Gray site

Evidence of peccaries have been found in Gray.


East Tennessee was once home to a stunning diversity of remarkable animals, including rhinos, tapirs, mastodons, alligators and more.  Scientists know all of this thanks to the fossil-rich clays of the Gray Fossil Site, which preserve an ancient ecosystem that dates back around 5 million years.  At that time, the site was a large pond surrounded by a lush forest.  Now, East Tennessee State University scientists have found another animal to add to the picture of this ancient ecosystem: peccaries.

Peccaries may look like pigs, but they are not.  True pigs, members of the family Suidae, are native to Europe, Asia and Africa, while peccaries belong to the family Tayassuidae and live in the Americas.  In some places, they are also known as javelinas. Like pigs, they are medium-sized omnivorous animals with small tusks. 

Crew members at the Gray Fossil Site have been pulling up peccary bones for many years, but a new study has revealed that these fossils belong to two different extinct species of peccary that roamed the ancient forests of Tennessee: Mylohyus elmorei and Prosthennops serus.  These peccaries were identified by well-preserved remains of their skulls, including nearly complete lower jaws of both species.  They would have been about the size of a German shepherd, which is a bit larger than modern-day peccaries.

These findings are particularly exciting since neither of these species has ever been found in this part of the country before, according to Dr. Chris Widga, head