By Jennifer Vess
In 1947 in Sewell, New Jersey, the crew of a mining operation for the water treatment company Hungerford and Terry Corporation noticed something a little strange in the sediments they were excavating. The crew had uncovered dinosaur fossils and, recognizing their importance, contacted Academy paleontologist and geologist Horace G. Richards to come out and take a look.
The fossils they uncovered would soon be described as the “best materials recovered from this region since the original find of 90 years ago.” The “original find” was the 1858 discovery of a nearly complete skeleton described and named by Joseph Leidy as Hadrosaurus foulkii.
With the blessing of the Hungerford and Terry Corporation, Richards brought in Edwin H. Colbert, a vertebrate paleontologist from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) who also worked part time for the Academy. The excavation team consisted of staff from the Academy and the AMNH, and the fossils were prepared by Richards as well as Jack Graham of the United States Geological Survey. In the end four different institutions were involved in the discovery of the fossils.
The excavation team recovered about 40 bones and a number of bone fragments, all belonging to a single skeleton. With these fossils Colbert was able to identify the animal as Hadrosaurus minor, a species first identified by paleontologist O.C. Marsh in 1870. Marsh had named the species from a somewhat small collection of bones, but with this new discovery Colbert felt that the species “rests upon a much firmer foundation than it formerly did.”
Only a few months after the discovery of the fossils, the Academy put them on display, sharing with the public the discovery and science in action. Colbert also wrote a paper about the discovery for the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences. The bones (below) are still held here in the Academy’s Vertebrate Paleontology Collection.
The Archives holds a series of correspondence between the Academy president Charles M.B. Cadwalader, the Hungerford and Terry Corporation, and Colbert documenting the progress of the excavation and the exhibition. The photographs shown on page 12 are snapshots taken at the site, referred to in labels as the Inversand Pit.