2008-05-21 / Front Page

Discovery Day opens window on prehistory

BY REBECCA MORTON Staff Writer

MARLBORO - Creatures 80 million years old still remain in Marlboro, although most of them remain hidden to the naked eye. Residents were recently able to take a close look at the fossils of these extinct creatures, which are still being discovered around town.

Discovery Day was held at the Marlboro Recreation Community Center on April 27 as Paul Kovalski, a former member of the Township Council, continued his tradition of informing residents about Marlboro's prehistoric era. Guests were

offered information and a chance to see the remains of some ancient beasts.

Children and adults appeared to be in awe as they examined the remains of the long-extinct creatures up close.

On hand to provide information to the inquisitive visitors were representatives of the Museum of Natural History, New York City; the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia; the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton; the New Jersey Department of Community Forestry; and local historical societies, including the Marlboro Historic and Preservation Society and the Marlboro Historic Commission.

Kovalski is a lifelong resident of Marlboro and said he has been collecting fossils around town since he was a boy.

"In Marlboro we have one of the top three dinosaur fossil sites in the state," he said of the Big Brook site along Boundary Road.

Kovalski said that when he served on the council (in the early years of this decade), he supported Discovery Day in order to bring awareness of Marlboro's hidden treasure. The Big Brook area must be preserved, Kovalski said, since it is not only a fun place to bring children, but also because there are still significant specimens being uncovered for those in the scientific community.

Since most of the fossils that have been discovered inMarlboro stem from the Cretaceous period (the end of the age of dinosaurs), Kovalski said the specimens may contain the answers as to why the dinosaurs died out.

Less than 10 years ago, an amateur fossil collector was searching in the Big Brook area and discovered the dental plate of a fish that until that time had never been seen in the eastern portion of the United States, Kovalski said. He said that important find is now housed at the state museum.

Don Phillips, the president of the New York Paleontological Society, displayed various Ice Age fossils that have been found around the world. One fossil Phillips personally dug up in Big Brook was the lower leg bone of a beaver. When asked to describe the difference between today's beavers and its Ice Age predecessor, Phillips said the IceAge animals were much larger than today's.

Phillips, who is a professor of neuroscience at the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y., said fossils tell a story. He displayed the fossilized remains of crabs and told a tale of a superstorm that occurred 100,000 years ago. He said that storm caused water to cover Long Island, washing these fossils ashore.

Phillips explained that the Hadrosaurus, New Jersey's official state dinosaur, was discovered in the late 1850s near Haddonfield. A farmer discovered large pieces of vertebrae in a marl pit on his farm. The discovery was the most complete dinosaur found up until that time, Phillips said.

It is very rare, but possible, to find fossils of the Hadrosaurus in Marlboro. Kovalski said he once found a small piece of the dinosaur's femur and other individuals have found the dinosaur's teeth.

David Parris, the curator of natural history at the New Jersey State Museum, had a large fossil with him to show guests at Discovery Day. The large hipbone was found inMontana, but is the same species as New Jersey's state dinosaur, Parris explained.

"Marlboro and Monmouth County is kind of the epicenter of New Jersey for fossils. New Jersey is a great place to live if you are a paleontologist," Parris said.

Lorraine Smith and her children were enjoying themselves at Discovery Day sifting sediment in the hope of finding fossils. A table was set up were guests could purchase a plate to search through and find a variety of small treasures.

"The kids love dinosaurs and fossils," Smith said when asked what brought the family out that Sunday afternoon.

A resident of Marlboro for 11 years, Smith said her family has previously participated in the fossil dig that Kovalski and the Recreation Department offers. Information about the fossil dig can be found in the Recreation Department's brochure.

The Smith family found quite a few shark teeth in their batch of soil. They said that whatever items were found in their batch were theirs to keep.

"It's really neat to know it's right here in our backyard, and a great way to learn about history," Smith said.

The Department of Community Forestry was presenting visitors with white pine saplings. Regional forester Dave Johnson said the department has been coming to Discovery Day since its second year (2000). The forester was displaying samples of petrified wood that has been found in the western portion of the United States.

The large turnout and enthusiasm seen on Discovery Day is something that Kovalski said always surprises him and makes him eager to continue the tradition.

"It's something that we in Marlboro and Monmouth County can brag about," Kovalski said of the prehistoric treasures that can be found at Big Brook.

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