Photograph of the viewing tower at Clingmans Dome.

Tennessee Earth Science Quick Facts

Page snapshot: Tennessee State Geologic MapFossil; Rock; Mineral; GemHighest and Lowest Elevations; Places to Visit; and Additional Resources.

Image above:The viewing tower at Clingmans Dome in Tennessee. Photograph by "devaynin" (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; image cropped and resized).

Geologic Map of Tennessee

Geologic map of Tennessee, with physiographic regions identified.

Geologic map of Tennessee showing maximum ages of mappable units. Image by Jonathan R. Hendricks for the [email protected] project developed using QGIS and USGS data (public domain) from Fenneman and Johnson (1946) and Horton et al. (2017).

Tennessee State Fossil: Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica

Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica is a species of Cretaceous bivalve. It became Tennessee's state fossil in 1998.


Interactive 3D model. Original caption: "Pterotrigonia thoracica (Bivalvia). Coon Creek Formation, TN. Courtesy of the ETSU Department of Geosciences. Pterotrigonia was a shallow-burrowing suspension feeder that inhabited the ocean floor of West Tennessee 70 million years ago." Model by Gray Fossil Site & Museum (Sketchfab; Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International).

Tennessee State Rock: Limestone

Limestone is abundant throughout central Tennessee, and the state even has a town named Limestone, said to be the birthplace of Davy Crockett. Tennessee limestone has historically been used as a building material and was also used in the process of smelting iron ore.


Photograph of Ordovician limestone layers from Tennessee.

Tilted Ordovician limestone (Moccasin Formation) from northeastern Tennessee. Photograph by James St. John (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; image resized).

Tennessee State Mineral: Agate

Tennessee agate is also known as "painted rock" thanks to its wide variety of colors and patterns. The silicate stone is most commonly clear or slightly milky, with swirling bands of red, yellow, and brown.


Photograph of a specimen of Tennessee agate.

Agate specimen from Greasey Cove, Tennessee. Photograph by Dave Ault (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).

Tennessee State Gem: Tennessee Pearl

The American Pearl Company, located in Camden and Nashville, Tennessee, is the only producer of farmed freshwater pearls in the United States, making Tennessee the leading state for pearl production since the 1960s.


"Searching for Pearls in Tennessee | Dixie Divers" by Discovery (YouTube).

Tennessee's Highest and Lowest Elevations

Highest Elevation: Clingmans Dome

Tennessee's highest point is Clingmans Dome, the highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains as well as the highest point along the 3499-kilometer (2174-mile) Appalachian Trail. At 2025 meters (6643 feet), it is the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi River, and on clear days offers a panoramic view of seven states: Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia.


Photograph of Clingman's Dome, the highest point in Tennessee.

Clingman's Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. Photograph by Tim Lumley (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).


Lowest Elevation: Mississippi River at Tennessee's Western Border

The Mississippi River at Tennessee's western border is the state's lowest point at 54 meters (178 feet) above sea level.


Image

Memphis, Tennessee, viewed from the Mississippi River. The western border of Tennessee along the Mississippi River has the lowest elevation in the state. Photograph by Domenico Convertini (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license).

Places to Visit


Gray Fossil Site

Gray, Tennessee.


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Photograph of a Red Panda fossil on display at Gray Fossil Site in Tennessee.

The red panda Pristinailurus bristoli. Specimen found at Gray Fossil Site, Tennessee, on display in the museum at the site (photograph by Elizabeth J. Hermsen).


McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture

University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


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Photograph of the exterior of the McClung Museum in Tennessee.

McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture. Photograph by "Rough Tough, Real Stuff" (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).


Clingmans Dome

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, TN.


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Photograph of the viewing tower at Clingmans Dome.

The viewing tower at Clingmans Dome in Tennessee. Photograph by "devaynin" (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license; image cropped and resized).


Tuckaleechee Caverns

Townsend, Tennessee.


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Image

Stalactites and columns inside of Tuckaleechee Caverns, Tennessee. Photograph by Todd Fowler (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; image resized).

Additional resources


Learn more about the Earth science of Tennessee and the surrounding region on [email protected]


Explore
Simple map of the southeastern United States showing the boundaries of the Inland Basin, Coastal Plain, and Blue Ridge and Piedmont regions.

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