Load & Haul

Fossil quarry may hold key to dinosaur mystery

US-based Rowan University announced at the end of last month that it was in the process of purchasing the 26ha quarry located in Mantua Township, New Jersey for $USD1.95 million ($AUD2.8 million). The site, which is said to be the last open marl pit still in operation on America’s east coast, has been owned by water filtration media supplier Inversand Company for nearly a century.

{{image2-a:r-w:200}}However, glauconite marl is not the only valuable material the quarry has yielded. The site is also home to a thin, 15cm bone bed containing a multitude of fossils dating back to the Cretaceous Period – a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Internationally renowned palaeontologist Dr Kenneth Lacovara, who recently joined Rowan University’s faculty and who has been studying the site for years, said, “We’ve uncovered thousands of fossils, including the remains of ancient sea turtles, crocodiles, and portions of fearsome marine lizards called mosasaurs, which grew to be the size of a bus.”

Evidence documented at the so-called “fossil quarry” indicates that there was a mass die-off of the animals that once lived there, and Lacovara said he and his team were examining the fossils, sediment and chemistry of the site to ascertain whether this was related to the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

He added that if this were the case, the quarry could provide an “unparalleled window into a pivotal moment in Earth history”.

Preservation through partnerships

Lacovara’s research was made possible through the co-operation of the Mantua Township’s economic development office and Inversand. Under an agreement between the two parties, the quarry owner continues to maintain the site, despite a winding down of its operations.

Lacovara explained that Inversand had operated the quarry at a loss for many years, actively pumping out groundwater in the interests of preserving the fossils.

“The quarry is about 45ft [13.7m] under the water table,” he said. “We’ve worked feverishly for years to get things done, knowing that Inversand was stretching their resources to keep the quarry open. They deserve immense credit for their careful stewardship of the property, their concern for the community, and their unwavering support of science.”

In addition to his research, Lacovara has been hosting community “dig days” at the quarry in partnership with the Mantua Township economic development office since 2012, with almost 10,000 members of the general public having searched for fossils at the site.

Rowan University indicated that it planned to continue offering the community dig days along with other educational programs for schoolchildren and community groups. It also plans to establish a science centre that focuses on the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and a new university division known as the School of Earth and Environment, which Lacovara would lead as founding dean.

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