Did you know that NJ has a state fossil?
HADDONFIELD — Did you know New Jersey has a state fossil? It does and even cooler, it’s a dinosaur!
The Hadrosaurus foulkii is the state dinosaur, named in honor of William Parker Foulke, an amateur geologist who helped discover the bones in Haddonfield, NJ in 1858.
What is the Hadrosaurs foulkii?
It belongs to a group called duck-billed dinosaurs, said Ted Daeschler, curator and professor at The Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, Pennsylvania.
These were plant-eating, moderate-sized dinosaurs and very common in the Cretaceous period, between 145 and 66 million years ago, he said.
The East coast had some deposits from this period, he said but most of them formed in shallow bays and seaways where sediments accumulated. In the case of the Hadrosaurus foulkii, the dinosaur got washed in the sediment, sunk to the bottom, and buried.
How did the dinosaur wind up in Haddonfield?
Daeschler explained that over the past hundred million years, South Jersey had built up and the Jersey Shoreline went back to where Haddonfield is now. In the case of the Hadrosaurus foulkii, about 70 million years ago, those ancient shore-bay-like deposits were accumulated.
Animals died and were buried in these sediments, and many of them were fossilized.
“New Jersey is famous for a lot of fossils from the Cretaceous period, but not a lot of dinosaurs,” Daeschler said.
While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where they resided, Daeschler believes Hadrosaurus foulkii, being a land-living animal, probably lived in the hills and mountains of what is now Pennsylvania or Northern New Jersey. They may have also lived along the shorelines, towards the Jersey Shore.
The Hadrosaurs foulkii died near the shoreline and was washed out into the shallow bay-type setting where it was buried.
How was the dinosaur discovered in Haddonfield?
The muddy bay shoreline deposits near the Jersey Shore were very rich in organic materials, Daeschler explained.
In the 1800s, New Jersey farmers knew they could dig down, collect these deposits rich in nutrients, and spread them in their fields to fertilize them. It was while they were digging out some of the organic sediment that they found the original material of the Hadrosaurus foulkii.
In the late 1830s, a farmer named John Hopkins was digging in a marl pit in Haddonfield and found large bones of an unidentified creature but didn’t think much of it. He, instead, gave the bones away to family and friends as door stoppers and mantle pieces.
About 20 years later in 1858, William Parker Foulke heard that bones had been discovered. He went to the Hopkins farm where Hopkins showed Foulke some of the strange bones he found and kept.
With Hopkins’ permission, Foulke asked if he could do some more digging to see what they could find. Foulke, along with his friend, Philadelphia anatomist, Dr. Joseph Leidy led the excavation at the Haddonfield site.
About six to 10 feet down, they found bone, after bone, after bone, said Deforest “Butch” Brees, historian and curator of Hadrosaurus Park in Haddonfield, which is the discovery site.
“They dug up what we know today as the parts of the skeleton that is still preserved in the research collections here at the academy,” Daeschler said.
In 1868, they used that skeleton material to reconstruct what the complete skeleton would have looked like, with the help of sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins of England, Brees said.
“What is preserved, what was collected over there in Haddonfield was about 30 percent of the skeleton,” Daeschler said.
The men were able to put together a skeleton, by sculpting the missing pieces and putting it on display and this was 1868, Daeschler said.
Hawkins erected the bones and cast other bones in between the bones that were found because they could picture what they would look like, Brees added.
It was the first dinosaur in the world to be reconstructed and put on display, both men agreed.
Where are the original bones of Hadrosaurus foulkii located?
The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural history museum in the U.S., only about 20 minutes away from the Haddonfield site.
Hawkins and company had erected the sculpture in 1868 at The Academy of Natural Sciences, drawing in thousands of visitors because nobody had ever seen a dinosaur before.
“It was the first dinosaur erected in its skeletal structure in 1868, one of the claims to fame to the dinosaur found in Haddonfield,” Brees said.
The original bones remain lodged at the academy til this day, in a temperature-controlled atmosphere in the catacombs.
Where is the exact discovery site of the dinosaur bones in Haddonfield?
No one really ever knew the exact location on the Hopkins farm where the dinosaur bones were discovered.
So, in 1983, Brees’ 13-year-old son, Christopher was looking for an Eagle Scout project.
He did some research and found a map of where the bones were found. He compared them to a map in 1905 on Hopkins Farm, which was located just off Maple Avenue and Grove Street, said Brees.
Chris then marked the spot where or near where the bones were discovered. At that time, NJ Monthly had done an article about the dinosaur and mentioned Chris’ Eagle Scout project.
Brees said The Academy of Natural Sciences reached out to his son and invited him to present his ideas about how he wanted to officially mark the spot. They loved his ideas and decided to fund the project.
“That gave it the credibility it needed to say this was adjacent to the site where the dinosaur was found,” Brees said. The park was then built.
In 1984, a stone-mounted memorial was created and placed by Brees’ son, Chris.
Then, in 1994, a retired national park employee in Cherry Hill, named John Bond wrote a designation to have the site recognized as a national historical landmark, Brees said.
A pole-mounted plaque was erected that same year when the Hadrosaurus foulkii discovery site was declared a national historic landmark.
That site is located just off Maple Avenue and Grove Street in Haddonfield.
Whose idea was it to make the Hadrosaurus foulkii the state fossil?
In 1991, a teacher and a group of third graders at The Strawbridge Elementary School in Westmont believed New Jersey needed a state fossil. They felt that the Hadrosaurus foulkii would make one. So, they reached out to the state legislature about it. Jim Florio, who was governor of New Jersey at the time, signed the bill that made it official.
Daeschler thinks the Hadrosaurus foulkii is a great choice to be designated the state fossil.
“It’s such a unique fossil. Although this kind of dinosaur is common out west, there are so few dinosaur fossils from the East Coast that this remains the best representative of that kind of dinosaur from anywhere on the East Coast,” he said.
Can people visit this national historic landmark?
“There is a visitor log that I maintain. I started it in 1998. Since that time, we’ve had over 7,000 visitors from every state in the union, and 13 countries. In fact, last week, we had a visitor from Moscow, Russia,” Brees said.
It’s a little tricky to get to the site, Brees said. If people are coming from Haddonfield on Grove Street, it’s a right-hand turn. For those who are coming from Route 70 in Cherry Hill it would be a left-hand turn at the stop light at Maple and Grove, he said.
The historic site is at the very end of the street. A visit to the actual excavation site is at the bottom of the ravine, he said.
In 2003, a sculptor from Haddonfield named John Giannotti made the sculpture of the Hadrosaurus foulkii and dedicated it to the park.
Brees said no public funds were used to sculpt this dinosaur. It all came from donations.
“The dinosaur was about 25 feet long, six to 10 feet at the hips, and weighed about 7 to 8 tons. It was quite a figurative dinosaur,” Brees said. This fairly accurate depiction of the dinosaur can be found at Hadrosaurus Park.
Brees said it is so wonderful to see people taking pictures of the sculpture. Kids throw coins in there as well.
He collects the coins and uses them to help maintain and clean the site, and pay for the visitors’ logs.
For more information about the Hadrosaurus foulkii, its history, pictures, and the park, visit here.