New Jersey dinosaur due for makeover

State's Hadrosaurus needs a new head

August 15, 1999|By New York Times News Service

TRENTON, N.J. -- Unheralded, unappreciated and just plain unattractive, New Jersey's state dinosaur, the Hadrosaurus foulkii, has never approached the marquee status of prehistoric megastars like Tyrannosaurus rex or Velociraptor.

"This guy is our own sort of humble, native New Jerseyan, and so he doesn't receive quite the press that the dinosaurs do out West," said William B. Gallagher, registrar of the Natural History Bureau of the New Jersey State Museum, where the dinosaur has been on display for more than 60 years. "But he is a substantial dinosaur."

When it was identified nearly 150 years ago, Hadrosaurus opened the door to modern paleontology. It was the world's first mounted dinosaur skeleton and it proved that some dinosaurs walked upright on two legs rather than the reptilian-like crawl that many had suspected, touching off the first wave of "dino-mania."

Because knowledge about the Hadrosaurus has grown, Gallagher is looking to update the museum's display to reflect the changes.

There is one hitch: Hadrosaurus needs a new head.

"It's a really minor thing," he said, "but we want to have it as correct as possible."

The first traces of fossilized vertebrae of Hadrosaurus were discovered in 1838 on a farm owned by financier Johns Hopkins near Haddonfield, N.J., by diggers mining marl, a mixture of clay, sand and limestone used as fertilizer. The discovery set off a bone rush among amateur paleontologists, many of them wealthy Philadelphia residents who flocked to southern New Jersey in the summer to escape the city's heat.

Twenty years passed before William Parker Foulke, a friend of Hopkins and a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, organized the first scientific dig, which turned up a treasure trove of bones. Foulke quickly sought expert help, bringing in Dr. Joseph Leidy, an anatomist at the University of Pennsylvania.

The second excavation of the marl pit, in 1858, yielded enough bones to assemble the most complete dinosaur skeleton reconstructed, a creature that Leidy named Hadrosaurus foulkii ("Foulke's bulky lizard") in honor of Foulke.

"So, for the first time, they finally had enough of a dinosaur to make some conclusions about how they stood and walked," Gallagher said.

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