by Larry WithronNew Jersey’s role in the discovery of dino-saurs traces back to Haddonfield, Camden County, where in 1858, William Parker Foulke dug up what was then the most complete dino-saur skeleton ever found. Indeed, the Hadro-saurus foulkii, as Foulke’s discovery was to become iknown, was the world’s first dinosaur skeleton to be mounted and publicly displayed.As it turns out, though, one of the country’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was pre-sented in 1787 with a heavy, dark bone exca-vated from Woodbury, Gloucester County. Frank-lin, then serving as president of the American Philosophical Society, which was meeting in Philadelphia, was informed by prominent Phila-delphia physician Caspar Wistar that the bone might be a thigh bone from a large man. Ulti-mately, however, the bone found its way to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia where work by Dr. Donald Baird, formerly of Princeton University, led to the conclusion that the bone was the left metatarsal (foot) bone of a duck-billed dinosaur.Frankllin and Wistar can be forgiven for their error in not properly identifying the Wood-bury bone. The term “dinosaur” was not even coined until 1842, when it was first used by British comparative anatomist Richard Owen, who worked only with isolated bones and teeth discovered in England in the early 1820s.Likewise, American dinosaur discoveries were isolated and fragmented until the monu-mental 1858 excavation of Hardosaurus foulkiifrom a pit in Haddonfield, a discovery that effect-ively earned New Jersey the title of birthplace of North American vertebrate paleontology. Foulke, a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, was vacationing in Haddonfield when he heard tales of vertebrae bone discoveries that had taken place 20 years earlier from John Hopkins,
the proprietor of a local farm. As local legend has it, Hopkins had allowed visitors to carry away those bones for use as door stops and window jams. it was Hopkins’ news that motivated Foulke to dig around in Hopkins’ marl pit. (Marl is a kind of dark clay that contains fossil seashells and was commonly mined for use as a fertilizer).Using a team of marl miners, Foulke led the excavation of a series of bones that experts carefully measured, catalogued and transported to a nearby house. When the digging finally stopped in December 1858, Foulke had dis-covered the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever, totaling 49 bones and teeth. Casts were made from the bones and missing parts (includ-ing the skull, which was never found) were fashioned. In 1868, the Academy of Natural Sciences was presented with the first mounted skeleton of a dinosaur.New Jersey’s Own Jurassic ParkWilliam Parker Foulke’s 1858 discovery, Hadrosaurus foulkii, was designated New Jersey’s “state dinosaur” in 1991, and the site of the discovery and excavation along what is now Maple Avenue in Haddonfield was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1995.