The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Governor's Schools


Welcome to the Governor's School

Evolution of the Vertebrates

In this course, we will explore the history of vertebrates revealed by fossils and living animals. We will cover the evolution of the major vertebrate groups, including discussions of the biogeography, stratigraphy, and paleoecology of select clades. Classroom activities will include hands on projects involving fossils, casts, and skeletons.

Topics to be covered:

Other topics include: This class will also include a field trip to the Gray Fossil Site, a 7-4.5 million year old fossil deposit found in 2001. The site is particularly well-known for its mammal fossils, but other vertebrate groups known from the locality include fish, amphibians, and reptiles. We will be visiting the associated museum, the fossil preparation and curation laboratories, and the site itself.

Course Requirements

The criteria for assigning grades for the course are the following:

Passing grade for the course: C

Course Instructors

Dr. Stephanie Drumheller-Horton, Course Director

Stephanie DrumhellerMy research interests center on vertebrate taphonomy, ichnology, paleopathology, and paleoecology. In particular, I study bone surface modifications generated under modern and experimental conditions to better understand the processes which left similar traces on bone in the fossil record. My current research projects include:

  1. testing methods for applying these modern analogies in a deep time perspective
  2. interpreting trophic interactions, behavior, and diet from bite marks left by different archosaurian groups, especially members of Crocodyliformes
  3. identifying and differentiating historically understudied traces and pathologies, such as bite marks vs. shell disease and different types of plant mediated damage to bone.

Jennifer Bauer, Teaching Assistant

Jennifer BauerJen Bauer is a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Her primary field is evolutionary paleobiology. She focuses on understanding evolutionary relationships and respiration of extinct animals. For her research she has been fortunate to travel to many museums and wonderful fossil localities over the past several years. Jen spends a significant amount of time providing educational lessons on fossils to young students, both at the McClung Museum and at local grade schools. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and knitting scarves.

Sarah Sheffield, Teaching Assistant

Sarah SheffieldI am a paleobiologist, so I an interested in understanding how life evolved through Earth’s history. Currently, I’m working on a group of extinct echinoderms (the group that includes sea lilies and sea stars): the diploporitans. These fossils and are not well understood. Their evolutionary relationships to other echinoderms, biogeography, or even why the diploporitans went extinct are big questions that don’t have answers. To learn more about this puzzling group, I do field work all over the world to uncover new fossils and travel to international museum collections to museums to restudy diploporitan collections. I am very active with science outreach and work with the local natural history museum, public schools, and the Darwin Day Program at the University of Tennessee to get people excited about science and to learn more about evolutionary biology.


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Knoxville, Tennessee 37996 | 865-974-1000
The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System