America's First Dinosaur Discovery (Haddonfield, NJ)
A North American Sacred Site of the Epic of Evolution
report by Connie Barlow, April 2009
The village of Haddonfield, New Jersey contains the site of "Ground Zero" for dinosaur paleontology in the Americas. It is here that the first nearly complete skeleton of a dinosaur was unearthed. Hadrosaurus foulkii was a late Cretaceous duck-billed dinosaur. In 1858 its mineralized bones were found in a marl pit from which local farmers extracted a calcium-rich mud that they then blended into their own sandy farm fields. Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd visited this national historic landmark in early spring of 2009. Connie files this report.
As Michael Dowd and I travel the country teaching and preaching a sacred understanding of the history of this 14 billion year Universe, one of the perks is a chance to visit what we like to call sacred sites of the Epic of Evolution. In late March 2009, while serving as guest speaker at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cherry Hill (New Jersey), Amellia Kresller told me about the historic dinosaur site just three miles down the road. It was discovered in 1858 remarkably, the same year that Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin offered an understanding of evolution by natural selection. This nearly complete skeleton provided "irrefutable scientific proof that dinosaurs had actually existed".
The site was first developed for visitation and commemoration in 1984 by a 13-year-old Boy Scout who would earn his Eagle Scout badge by clearing, preparing, and promoting the site. But first, Christopher Brees had to find it amidst the tossled vegetation, trash, and ruins of a sewage plant. (The official Hadrosaurus foulkii website has the full story of Brees's remarkable contribution.) The informative pamphlets available for free at the site contain this touching note in small print: "The Dinosaur Site has been maintained by The Brees Family since 1984."
In 1994, the site where Hadrosaurus foulkii was unearthed
became a National Historic Landmark.
Michael Dowd at the Hadrosaurus commemorative site.
A special delight at this site is an evolving, permanent exhibit: the benchtop shrine of toy dinosaurs. Neighborhood kids (and probably repeat visitors, too) apparently initiated and maintain this tradition. As one local dad explained to me, while his young daughter and son looked on, "It's okay to temporarily take one home, so long as you bring a replacement." Then he pointed to a purple duckbilled dinosaur and asked his son, "Is this still the one we brought here or is that one gone by now?" The shy boy just shrugged.
I touched the purple dinosaur and asked the kids, "Do you think this one ate meat or plants?" No response, so I picked up a few samples and staged a mock battle, while the kids looked on. "This one is a meat-eater. Here, see the big, sharp teeth. Grrrrrrr. And this one is a veggiesaur. Yikes!"
The family resumed their bike ride. I finished my play in solitude by putting three dinosaurs nose to nose in conversation. And I hid the baby longneck beneath the belly of its mom, as this is surely the position it would have taken with fierce carnosaurs around.
Michael and I hiked the trail down to the creek. I was on a mission: I had never heard of dinosaur bones being discovered in loose mud ("marl") only in stone. Several years earlier Michael and I had made a pilgrimage to a site just west of Denver, Colorado, where the bones of long-neck (Jurassic age) dinosaurs were embedded in solid rock. (Visit my photo-essay of "Dinosaur Ridge: A Sacred Site of the Epic of Evolution.) But here in New Jersey I was curious: What does marl actually look like?
It was a lovely, very early spring day. A few flowers were in bloom (above left), but the deciduous forest was still entirely leafless. Above right: Michael Dowd stands along the creek. The photograph was taken from the near the commemorative plaques. The dinosaur skeleton had been extracted from a pit just a short ways downstream (to the left).
I had learned about marl when I minored in geology in college many years before. The gray clay-like layer washed clean at the bottom of the river bank certainly looked like marl (photo lower left). I tested a sample: it had enough clay to roll into a smooth, compact ball (photo lower right).
So this was the marl layer! And this marl was 74 million years old! What a surprise to learn that mud could stay mud for that long. Apparently, during the warm Cretaceous, sea level was high enough to make the site of present-day Philadelphia a beach. Muds, sands, and dinosaur carcasses would have been swept into the sea and deposited here in New Jersey. You can learn more about the marl pit and this famous discovery at: http://www.levins.com/ravine.shtml. Here are a few extracts from that website:
"Colonial Americans understood neither the concept of geological time nor the actual process by which fossils were created. Their society was one that still looked largely to scripture for explanations of much of the surrounding natural world. For instance, the fossil fish and seashells found at quarries and construction excavations in the 1700s were widely believed to be residue from the great flood survived by Noah."However, even today there are those who refuse to accept the scientific evidence. Consider these passages from one of the premier websites espousing Young-Earth creationism: Answers in Genesis:
"This nearly-complete skeleton was like a lightning bolt in the scientific community, cutting through decades of murky speculation, skepticism and debate to dramatically confirm a historical reality so new and vast and meaningful, it took the breath away.""According to the Bible: Dinosaurs first existed around 6,000 years ago. God made the dinosaurs, along with the other land animals, on Day 6 of the Creation Week (Genesis 1:20-25, 31). Adam and Eve were also made on Day 6, so dinosaurs lived at the same time as people, not separated by eons of time."
"Dinosaurs are used more than almost anything else to indoctrinate children and adults in the idea of millions of years of earth history. However, the Bible gives us a framework for explaining dinosaurs in terms of thousands of years of history, including the mystery of when they lived and what happened to them. Two key texts are Genesis 1:24-25 and Job 40:15-24."
"After the Flood, around 4,300 years ago, the remnant of the land animals, including dinosaurs, came off the Ark and lived in the present world, along with people. Because of sin, the judgments of the Curse and the Flood have greatly changed earth. Post-Flood climatic change, lack of food, disease, and man's activities caused many types of animals to become extinct. The dinosaurs, like many other creatures, died out."
Those who mistake the Bible for a science text continue to thwart the teaching of the evolutionary sciences in public schools in many parts of the country. But the shrine of toy dinosaurs at this Hadrosaurus site gives me hope! Perhaps by the time the children I met there become adults, our nation will have moved through this wrenching phase of conflict between science and religion. Michael Dowd and I are doing all that we can to foster such a turn. Here is an easy way for you to help. Peruse other examples of Sacred Sites of the Epic of Evolution on this website, and then create your own photo essay of a site you have visited. (You can submit it as an MS Word document.) Send it to me at this address so that I can post it on this website:
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