Community News

New Jersey's 'marl' pits yield dinosaur discoveries
4/27/2017 Volume XLVII, No. 17

Ever wonder how New Jersey towns like Marlton and Marlboro got their names? Look no further than “marl,” a soil also known as greensand.

Marl deposits date to the time when the southeastern half of this state we’re in was the sea floor, and greensand was deposited in coastal bays and freshwater river mouths. The marl contains fossils of ancient shelled invertebrates and freshwater and marine forms of every vertebrate group – fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and even primitive mammals!

Colonial-era farmers discovered that marl – which contains clay and calcium carbonate - made great fertilizer. Many marl pits were dug in the narrow geographic band now known as the Inner Coastal Plain. Greensand was sold to farmers all over New Jersey and beyond.

Marl pits contained more than fertilizer. In about 1838, a farmer in Haddonfield, Camden County, spotted gigantic bones in a sand pit on his property. Two decades later, fossil hobbyist William Parker Foulke heard about the bones while vacationing nearby.

Foulke called in his friend, paleontologist Joseph Leidy, and hired a crew of diggers. They excavated the bones of an animal larger than an elephant, with structural features of both a lizard and a bird.

The fossilized bones were the world’s first nearly complete dinosaur skeleton. The dinosaur died along the shallow coastline during the Cretaceous period 65 to 145 million years ago and sank to the bottom, where its skeleton fossilized in the greensand.

The creature was named Hadrosaurus foulkii after Foulk and Haddonfield, and was the first mounted dinosaur ever to be displayed to the public when it was put on exhibit at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1868.

Nearly 160 years after the dinosaur discovery made Haddonfield the birthplace of American paleontology, the Garden State is still rich in fossils.

“New Jersey is a great place to be if you’re a paleontologist,” says David Parris, paleontologist and head curator of natural history at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.

The state’s most productive fossil region is the Inner Coastal Plain, which runs from Raritan Bay to the upper reaches of the Delaware Bay in Salem County. During the Cretaceous period - when New Jersey was located much closer to the equator, the Earth was warmer and sea levels higher - the Atlantic coastline was located there.

Thanks to their ancient history, the sediments of the Inner Coastal Plain contain fossils of both sea creatures like mosasaurs and giant crocodiles, and land creatures that lived in swamps on the edge of the continent, like the hadrosaurus.

Two Inner Coastal Plain sites where land has been permanently preserved are especially good for finding fossils.

The first is within Monmouth County’s Historic Walnford Park, preserved with the help of New Jersey Conservation Foundation in the 1970s. The dig site, called Ellisdale, is yielding thousands of fossils of all sizes, from large to microscopic, all being studied at the New Jersey State Museum.

The second is the former Inversand Quarry in Mantua Township, Gloucester County, where mosasaurs – ancient sea lizards resembling Komodo dragons – were excavated. Thanks to donors, Rowan University purchased the quarry in 2016. It is now called the Jean and Ric Edelman Fossil Park and is available to Rowan students as well as schools and individuals attending “Community Dig” days.

The former quarry must be continually pumped to keep out water, but the marl there is so soft that paleontologists can dig with a garden trowel rather than having to chip through rock.

Due to suburban development, the site where “Haddy” the hadrosaurus was discovered is no longer a viable dig site. In fact, its exact location was lost until 1984 when a local Boy Scout named Chris Brees used old maps and Joseph Leidy’s descriptions to rediscover it. Thanks to Brees’ Eagle Scout project, the site is marked with a plaque commemorating its amazing history.

If you want to learn more about New Jersey’s Inner Coastal Plain and the fossils discovered there, take time to visit the New Jersey State Museum. Among the exhibits are a full-size hadrosaurus, made from casts of the original bones excavated in Haddonfield in 1858, and a giant crocodile from Burlington County just found in the last couple of years!

You can even watch as scientists carefully remove this fossil crocodile from the rock in which it is embedded.  The original Haddonfield dinosaur is kept at the Academy of Natural Sciences and is too fragile to be displayed. Find out more about the NJ State museum exhibit at http://www.nj.gov/state/museum/dos_museum_exhibit-written-rocks.html.

For a great online dinosaur exhibit, go to the Academy of Natural Sciences website at http://ansp.org/explore/online-exhibits/dinosaurs/.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

POSTS

Life, liberty ... and a clean environment

New Jersey's aging water infrastructure

The land before time: NJ's Kittatinny Ridge & Valley

While bats hibernate, scientists hope for survival

Natural Resource Damages fund new parks and preserves

Save menhaden, a humble but mighty fish

Ballot question approval would lock in environmental funds

Sandy Millspaugh: Conservation Trailblazer

Extreme hurricanes highlight concerns about climate change

'Head start' for corn snakes

Protecting the Highlands - it's the water

When you could walk from New Jersey to Morocco

A bold plan for the planet

New Jersey's energy future at a crossroads

Tiny insect will have a huge impact on New Jersey

Protect New Jersey's Pine Barrens

Enjoy New Jersey's forests!

Maine-to-Florida urban trail celebrates 25 years

Rare plants and animals need help!

Ban offshore drilling and seismic testing off NJ coast!

Summertime and the digging is easy

Is the elusive bobcat here to stay?

NJ water supply plan rings alarm bells

NJ's Piedmont: Formed by volcanoes and erosion

Defend public health and safety in state budget

'Magical' early 17-year cicadas

June and open space: Perfect together

Hit the trails on June 3, National Trails Day

Socializing with nature

Preserve land - and state's in lieu of taxes program

New Jersey's 'marl' pits yield dinosaur discoveries

Vernal pools: Now you see 'em, now you don't

State targets illegal dumpers in parks and forests

Former governors and elected leaders stand up for environment

Join CSAs to support local farms, save money, eat better

Weather extremes may be New Jersey's new normal

Bald eagles and ospreys rebound in New Jersey

Pine Barrens prescribed fires: A renewal force

Take a walk on the bottom of the sea!

Energy efficiency saves money and land - and creates jobs!

The Pines of March

Trees are more social than you think!

New Jersey's geological 'layer cake'

Keeping the 'great' in Paterson's Great Falls

Some good news!

Take action to defend and protect land and water

Interested in ecology? Become a Rutgers Environmental Steward

2016 wins and losses for New Jersey's land and water

Kick off a healthy New Year with First Day hike

Energy infrastructure: the new sprawl

ARCHIVE

November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011

CLICK FOR RECENT POSTS