Friday, March 22, 2019

Prehistoric New Jersey: Woodbury Formation

I am proud to have been born and raised in New Jersey.  Not because our bagels are the best, or because our pizza is just as good as New York's (it's true). I never really listened to Sinatra that much nor did I ever watch more than a few episodes of The Sopranos.  I'm proud to be from New Jersey because it is the site of the first scientifically-recognized fossil dinosaur.  Furthermore, New Jersey was the first state to adopt that dinosaur, Hadrosaurus foulkii, as its official state fossil.  As a dinosaur-crazed kid, of course I knew all the staples, like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, but Hadrosaurus and Dryptosaurus (second fossil dinosaur found in New Jersey), were also part of my off the cuff repertoire.

All this being said, it wasn't until recently that I finally made the pilgrimage to the site where Hadrosaurus was found.  I don't really have a good excuse why it didn't happen earlier.  I suppose it was one of those situations where I kept putting it off because I knew it was always going to be there.  Regardless, today, we are going to recap the site and what it has to offer for anyone who chooses to visit.

The site is called the Woodbury Formation and is located in Central New Jersey, in a town called Haddonfield.  The town is named after Elizabeth Haddon, one of its earliest settlers.  Hadrosaurus' genus name translates to "bulky reptile" however.  I don't know if the similarity between the dinosaur's name and the town's name was a coincidence or not to be honest.

In the middle of downtown Haddonfield, an almost-life-size statue was erected in the early 2000s of Hadrosaurus.  The statue is reasonably accurate for its time, although there are a few glaring inaccuracies.  It's lacking a defined beak, which Hadrosaurus, and all members of its family would have had in life, being most notable.  I was told the artist was inspired by horse mouths when sculpting the Hadrosaurus, which explains the fleshy lip-like look.  The nostrils are a bit too far to the sides and don't really reflect where the nostril holes would have been on a real hadrosaur skull.  The overall body shape is clearly based on the actual skeleton, but also is a bit too skinny, exemplifying the "shrinkwrapped" look many dinosaur reconstructions of the 90s and early 2000s had.  We now know these kinds of dinosaurs would have been much meatier in life especially in the neck and tail regions.  Overall, however, the statue is pretty awesome.  I like the skin texture that was put into it, including the scallop-shaped ridges going down the back and the folds where the neck meets the shoulders.  I also like its sense of movement.  It's not too crazy, but it doesn't look like it's just sitting there doing nothing either.  Despite its inaccuracies, it's very lifelike.

Hadrosaurus statue in the middle of downtown Haddonfield.  A bit outdated by today's standards, it is still a decent representation of the animal.
You can tell from the proportions and even by the fingers and toes that a real hadrosaur skeleton was carefully referenced when this statue was being made.  I just wish it had an actual beak.

My next stop was only about a mile away down the road to the actual site where the Hadrosaurus bones were discovered.  When most people envision a paleontology dig site, they picture an arid desert.  America's first dinosaur, however, was discovered in a heavily forested riverbed.  Since its discovery in the 1800s, the area was taken over by suburbs, but the actual site is still there and marked at the end of a quiet dead end flanked by houses.   When you first pull up, there is a picnic table with an army of plastic dinosaur toys which I'm assuming are for the public to steal play with.  There is a large information sign with a diagram of Hadrosaurus' known skeleton, some information about its discovery, and a beautiful little plaque on a rock commemorating the area.  Then there is a steep, ivy-covered hill that leads into a shallow creek bed where the bones were found!

The site as you pull up at the end of a quiet residential culdesac.
There is a picnic table with toy dinosaurs for me kids to play with at the site.  I recognized the Brontosaurus from Tyco's 1990s Definitely Dinosaurs line, as well as "Bruton", the Iguanodon from Disney's movie from 2000, Dinosaur.  
The plaque on the rock in the middle of the site has what looks like a tiny version of the statue in the downtown area.

It's a far shot from the big scorching desert sites we are used to imagining today, but this is how dinosaur paleontology in the United States began.  I think the memorials reflect it perfectly: peaceful, quiet, modest, but nevertheless an extremely important moment in history that would forever change the way we look at our earth's past, and the animals that lived there.

Just past the plaque there is a steep hill that leads down into a creek in the forest below, where the Hadrosaurus bones were discovered in the 1800s that would spark the American Dinosaur craze that persists to this day.

If you're ever in central New Jersey, come visit Haddy's site.  It's a quiet, peaceful pilgrimage every dinosaur fan should make!

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