Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Our Fossil State

We worry about a threatened species becoming endangered and about an endangered species becoming extinct. But there are some species that are extinct that we still study and protect: fossils.

The world’s first nearly complete dinosaur skeleton was discovered in Haddonfield, NJ. It revolutionized the study and helped put New Jersey on the paleontological world map. At the NJ State Museum, an exhibit features a 25 foot long cast of Hadrosaurus foulkii, the world's first nearly-complete dinosaur skeleton that was discovered here in 1858.

Paleontologists, both professional and amateur, are still unearthing fossilized remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures at several active sites in the state.

"The fossil state - New Jersey" is a document published by that discusses the narrow diagonal band across our state known to geologists as the Inner Coastal Plain. This area runs along the center of New Jersey from Salem County on the Delaware Bay to the Raritan Bay in Monmouth County. During the Cretaceous period, when the earth was much warmer and sea levels higher, the Atlantic coastline followed the band of the Inner Coastal Plain. (Maybe one day it will again be the coastline.)

This shallow ocean was home to sea creatures like mosasaurs and giant crocodiles, and sometimes land-dwelling creatures would be pulled into the ocean. The sediments in this area contain fossils of both land and sea creatures.

One of the soil types that is very fossil-rich is called greensand, known locally as “marl.”  It was once the sea floor. It is still soft and can be dug with a trowel, rather than the typical chipping away at rock for fossils. You may know some sites of marl deposits of the Inner Coastal Plain because of NJ towns that carry the name such as Marlton and Marlboro.

NJ has 9 of the 11 fossil-rich geologic periods represented in its geology and fossils have been found in 19 of the state’s 21 counties.

Today’s paleontologists are especially focused on fossils of the late Cretaceous period, found at sites in Monmouth, Burlington and Gloucester Counties.

The Discover DEP  Official Podcast of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection covered in Episode 40 the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University with Dr. Ken Lacovara.  Give a listen at

NJ Physiography
JimIrwin at English Wikipedia
CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

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