Junior paleontologists line up to look for fossils at South Jersey pit

    Mantua Township passed an ordinance this week to purchase an Inversand company mine that’s chock full of prehistoric remains dating back to the demise of the dinosaurs.

    While the South Jersey town is not obligated to follow through on the buy, it has locked in a price of nearly $2 million for the 65 acres, and will have until next year to raise funds.

    In the meantime, the Inversand Company will continue to run the pumps that keep the pit — which is under the water table — dry and well preserved.

    According to Drexel paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara, the site “contains one of the best exposures into the Cretaceous period east of the Mississippi River,” including more than two dozen species of sharks, bony fish, sea turtles, marine crocodiles, and mosasaurs, a kind of sea monster that’s like “a Komodo dragon that’s as long as a school bus with paddles for limbs.”

    The fossils might even be part of the mass extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

    “We have a lot of work left to do,” said Lacovara. “But if that turns out to be the case, then this site in this sleepy little town in South Jersey turns out to be of global importance.”

    At the very least, supporters say, it’s a treasure trove for local schoolchildren, and an ideal spot for an accompanying museum or educational facility.

    The township, together with Drexel and the Inversand Company, has hosted three extremely popular annual community dig days. There are 50 schools on a waiting list to making their own field trips to the site.

    “When you see the little guys coming in with their shovels, it’s amazing,” said Mantua Deputy Mayor Sharon Lawrence, who is also a former 6th grade math teacher. “They’re so excited, and you know this is the first step into that STEM education that’s so vitally important.”

    She said while most of the community is enthusiastic about the plans, the few with reservations are concerned about coming up with the money.

    “People need to know for the most part, we’re looking for funding outside,” said Lawrence. “This isn’t where we want to build a park and have it maintained by Mantua Township.”

    The township has already submitted an application to New Jersey’s Green Acres program, which provides grants to preserve important sites.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal