Dinosaurs found in New Jersey!

Written by: Chikasamara Amu-Nadi

As part of Mercer’s Distinguish Lecture series, Biology Professor, Laura Blinderman, invited  Dr. William Gallagher to Mercer County College to present a lecture on dinosaur remains found in New Jersey and the Dinosaur Mass Extinction Theory.

Before Snooki, the Situation, and the rest of the Jersey Shore cast reigned in New Jersey, dinosaurs of various shapes and sizes dominated New Jersey’s landscape. These prodigious creatures did not have an MTV show or get paid more than the commencement speaker at Rutgers. Yet the imprint dinosaurs left in New Jersey provides scientists with ample information about New Jersey’s prehistoric landscape.

According to the biographical information provided on the program leaflet for the lecture, Dr. Gallagher received his Ph.D in Geology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1990. He worked as the assistant curator of the Natural History, Collections and Exhibits at the New Jersey Sate Museum’s Natural History Bureau. He is an Associate Professor at Rider University as well as a Science and Technology Advanced Research Fellow at Rider University. He teaches a Mesozoic Ruling Reptile course at Rider University. Dr. Gallagher has also taught courses at  University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, and Kean University. He has written a popular book called When Dinosaurs Roamed N.J.

Dr. Gallagher’s journey to uncover dinosaur burial grounds in New Jersey began when he was a child.

“I saw a show about dinosaurs fighting and going extinct, and from then on I was hooked. I have been traveling the world looking for dinosaur fossils since I was 8 years old,” Dr. Gallagher said.

Dr. Gallagher elaborated on various dinosaurs found in New Jersey. He said “the Dilophosaurus had a long, quasi flexible jaw, and long, strong, high limbs…They were the kings and queens of the Mesozoic era.”

According the Dr. Gallagher, In October of 1858 William Foulke found the first complete dinosaur skeleton in Haddonfield, NJ, after a visit to his friend John E. Hopkins’s  home compelled him to search for unknown skeletons. It was the first full dinosaur skeleton found anywhere in the world.

William Foulke’s friend, Professor Joseph Leidy concluded from the bones that dinosaurs could stand on their hind legs. Leidy named the creature Hadrosaurus foulkii, which means “Foulke’s bulky lizard.” Artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, with the help of Leidy and other colleagues, erected the skeleton bones and displayed them in the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Penn. Dr. Gallagher also said, “though the Dryptosaurus lived in New Jersey and was related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex, its arms were much larger in size.”

Another dinosaur species that Dr. Gallagher studied was the duckbill dinosaur. Dr. Gallagher described how their nasal bones were on their head. He suggests the adaptation was used for communication. The low frequency sound, made from air passing through their nasal cavity, could travel long distances.

Some other excavations involved the discoveries of the tailbone of a dinosaur, found in Medford, NJ. Other dinosaur fossils were found in the Newark Basin and in rocks of the Coastal Plains of New Jersey. Dr. Gallagher said “dinosaurs began to grow in size and abundance during the Jurassic age.” Dr. Gallagher was involved in the discovery of the Mosasaur, which is a enormous lizard-like dinosaur that lived in the seas of N.J.

To test out their Dinosaur Mass Extinction Theory, Dr. Gallagher and fellow Rutgers professors looked for iridium by conducting a major drilling project in the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-P) boundary of sediment rocks underground in Freehold, NJ. They believe that it is very plausible that dinosaurs were destroyed by huge asteroids. Iridium shock metal grains are found only after nuclear testing or asteroid impact.

They believe that when they drilled the K-P boundary the area with iridium would consist of no plankton or dinosaur fossil. Their theory was supported by their findings. Dr. Gallagher discussed how the eradication of the dinosaurs spurred the growth of mammals. “The biosphere transformed along with many ecological changes,” he explained.

In Dr. William Gallagher’s book When Dinosaurs Roamed N.J. he explains New Jersey’s unique  history,excluding Snooki and the Jersey Shore cast, of varying landscape and gigantic inhabitants. He explains, “writing a book takes time, effort, discipline” but he goes on to say that the experience is one of the most satisfying of his career.

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