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  • Writer's pictureGary Vecchiarelli

The Only Surviving Cretaceous Dinosaur Track from New Jersey

Updated: Apr 24, 2023

Rutgers Geology Museum

Around 1929-1930, discoveries were made of Cretaceous dinosaur tracks in New Jersey! In January 1929, the first set of tracks were found by men working in a pit at Hampton Cutter Clay Works in Woodbridge. The New Jersey State Museum made a valiant effort to save them at the time, but they were destroyed. However, not before they were photographed and sketched in the field by Meredith Johnson of the New Jersey Geological Survey. The notes he took recorded evidence of a large, three-toed, bipedal dinosaur! In 1930, in the same area, a second trackway was uncovered. This time, paleontologists from Rutgers University were sent into the site. A single footprint was removed. This one track is now the one sole survivor on display at the Rutgers Geological Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Photo by Gary Vecchiarelli

In March of 1930, a third set of tracks were unearthered yet again! On this occasion, a team of geologists and paleontologist headed down to the area. Katherine Graywacz, of The New Jersey State Museum, renewed efforts in acquiring the trackways. While every effort was made to save the tracks using the tools of the trade, four were apparently removed and a fifth one was destroyed in the process. Dr. Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History identified the tracks as that of a large carnivorous dinosaur. The famed paleontologist also noted at the time that these prints were the only surviving Cretaceous dinosaur tracks known east of the Mississippi.

Dr. Barnum Brown showing Dinosaur Tracks to students in 1938. Property of the AMNH

The last set of tracks removed from the clay pit were going to become an exhibit at The New Jersey State Museum. Copies of the tracks were to be sent to The American Museum of Natural History, The Smithsonian Institute, and The Yale Peabody Museum. Apparently this never came to be and the fate of the four removed prints to this day are a mystery. The only available find today is the one track I mentioned earlier now on display at The Rutgers Geological Museum in New Brunswick, New Jersey. That track was from the January 1930 discoveries and was one of nine total found from 1929-1930.

WHERE A DINOSAUR ONCE ROAMED c. 1930 Hampton Cutter clay pit.

It is interesting to mention, that Dr. Donald Baird, a former professor of Princeton University, described further evidence of these amazing tracks from Woodbridge, New Jersey. He described that the footprints were around four feet apart, with the midline of the trackway passing through the base of the inner toe prints. This would indicate a dinosaur walking upright with its legs tucked in directly beneath its body. It was noted that no tail marks were noticed, so the animal must have walked with the tail lifted off the ground. The tracks measured some 20 inches from the tip of the middle toe to the base of the heal! The toe marks end with a claw mark. There is even evidence on the Rutgers print of a backward-pointing 'spur' or hallux, the impression of the vestigial first [or "big"] toe. He recorded that the tracks were around 90 million years old. The prints were made in damp clay and were almost immediately filled by an overwash of alluvial sand. He also noted that the 90 million year old footprints preserved under these exceptional circumstances is as unexpected as it is fortunate.

Works Cited:

Gallagher, William B. When Dinosaurs Roamed New Jersey. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1997. 67-69. Print.

Troeger, Virginia B., and Robert J. McEwen. Woodbridge: New Jersey's Oldest Township. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2002. 9-11. Print.

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