Tracking Dinosaurs in New Jersey | Science | Smithsonian
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Tracking Dinosaurs in New Jersey

You can find dinosaurs in New Jersey, but you have to know where to look. Even though my home state is known for suburban sprawl and peculiar odors today, a little over 65 million years ago much of it was covered by the ocean. Marine crocodiles, plesiosaurs, and gigantic mosasaurs prowled the near-...

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A student screening for fossils at Big Brook. From Flickr user Colin Purrington.


You can find dinosaurs in New Jersey, but you have to know where to look. Even though my home state is known for suburban sprawl and peculiar odors today, a little over 65 million years ago much of it was covered by the ocean. Marine crocodiles, plesiosaurs, and gigantic mosasaurs prowled the near-shore waters, and the dinosaurs Hadrosaurus and Dryptosaurus inhabited the land not too far from the ancient beach. When these dinosaurs died, sometimes their bones were washed out into rivers and carried to the boundary of the sea, where they became fossilized along with the remains of marine animals.

Unfortunately some of the most significant fossil sites in New Jersey have been built over or are no longer being examined, but there is one place where anyone can go to find fossils. It is called Big Brook and is well known for the abundance of shark teeth and other small fossils. Every one in a while, though, someone finds a bit of dinosaur bone.

Last December, New Jersey dentist Paul Kovalski found a chunk of brown bone at Big Brook three inches wide by three inches long. It didn't look like much, but when he took it to the paleontologists at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, they were able to confirm that it came from a dinosaur. It most likely belonged to Hadrosaurus, New Jersey's state dinosaur and one of the first major dinosaur discoveries in North America.

I have never been to Big Brook, but I'm making plans to make a number of visits there as the weather warms up. I doubt that I will be lucky enough to find any dinosaur bones, but who knows? I just might get lucky.
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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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