Paper No. 30-7
Presentation Time: 3:30 PM
100 YEARS OF PALEONTOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS AT SALTVILLE, VIRGINIA
The Saltville valley in southwest Virginia is a classic Quaternary vertebrate locality that has been the subject of paleontological investigations since the 18th century. In 1917, O. A. Peterson made the first professional collection from the site for the Carnegie Museum after the collapse of a salt extraction well exposed megafaunal remains. Subsequent work by Virginia Polytechnic, the Smithsonian Institution, Emory and Henry, Radford, and Virginia Museum of Natural History revealed faunal, floral, and stratigraphic records. Since 2003, the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) has been involved in a long term project to better understand the paleontology and paleoecology of the Saltville locality. To date, eight extinct megafaunal taxa have been recorded from the valley: Castoroides sp., Cervalces scotti, Equus sp., Bootherium bombifrons, Arctodus simus, Mammuthus sp., Mammut americanum, and Megalonyx jeffersonii. The ETSU excavations in Saltville have focused on two inundated localities. SV10 is the location of a well-preserved mammoth skeleton showing scavenging by large carnivorans, interpreted to be A. simus and Canis dirus. In 2010, work began on a nearby locality (SV5/7) where A. simus, Mammuthus sp., Mammut americanum, and Cervalces scotti were recovered. These localities provide a diverse array of paleoecological remains and document three distinct sedimentary units, from bottom to top: 1) clastic alluvial deposits containing reworked megafaunal remains in secondary context, 2) a sandy deposit that may be fluvial, and 3) a low energy, clay-rich lacustrine deposit. The sands and clay contain in situ faunal remains as large as mammoth, and as small as insects, pollen, and ostracodes. A series of radiocarbon dates indicate the sands and lower clays are full-glacial to terminal Pleistocene, and bones in the underlying alluvial clasts extend beyond radiocarbon dating. Recent exploration for genetic material in the late Pleistocene megafauna has revealed extraordinary preservation of ancient DNA. Further analyses of these sedimentary units in upcoming field seasons will shed additional light on site taphonomy, paleoecology, evolutionary relationships, and hydrologic history of the valley.