Rowan University Fossil Park

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Biggie’s most favorite people in the world would probably be his cousins in upstate New York. Every summer he spends a week with them to attend a Rock & Gem summer camp, reinvigorating his shared obsession with rocks and fossils to a roiling boil. Their mother, my sister-in-law, found out about a homeschool dig at a fossil quarry in Mantua, New Jersey and signed us all up.

Mantua is in South Jersey, about a three hour drive from the DC metropolitan area. Apparently South Jersey is a hotbed of paleontological activity, boasting the first dinosaur skeleton and kicking off the “Bone Wars” in the 19th century.

The fossil quarry we went to was the site of a six-inch bone bed that has yielded some of the best finds from the Cretaceous Period east of the Mississippi. Rowan University purchased the quarry and is in the process of turning it into a “fossil park.” In the meantime, it is hosting a number of community digs, information for which can be found at its website.

At the event we attended, Dr. Kenneth Lacorva, the very paleontologist who has been leading the research and excavation at this site, gave us some background information about past dinosaur finds in the area, the quarry, and the Cretaceous Period.

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We also were treated to a presentation of some of the fossils and finds that researchers have dug up in the quarry, including parts of mosasauruses (the terrifying stars of Jurassic World).

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Most of the time, however, was spent freely digging in the quarry itself. Plastic shovels and buckets were provided, and we were told to just have at it.

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Almost every attendee has walked away with something around 65 million years old, including ammonite fossils, shark teeth, and vivianite — mineral evidence of the mass extinction event that ended the Cretaceous Period.

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Grad students and volunteers from Rowan University were on hand to help identify finds as well as answer any questions. It was a marvelously educational experience, and even JB enjoyed herself, just sitting and digging in the dirt with purpose.

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If you have young’uns obsessed with dinosaurs or fossils, I would wholeheartedly recommend taking advantage of a trip up here while the university is still hosting these community digs. We paid a really measly suggested donation of $3 a person. I think more of these digs will be announced at the Fossil Park’s Facebook page.

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