Sunday, October 08, 2017

Dig Day

I read an article about a community dig day at Rowan University in South Jersey and wanted to get in on that. Apparently, everyone wants to get in on this. The first year I tried we did not get tickets but this year we did. I waited at the computer and punched in what I needed to. The whole day sells out in minutes. Then it was a matter of keeping that day clear of teenage activities but we mostly did. We, minus Adam who had a football game, recently drove down there to see what it was all about.
Right before we left, we realized we had been to the area before. 22 years ago, Phil and I drove to New Jersey for the official ceremony marking the Ashbrook’s Burial Ground. I still had the brochure and brought it with us. We decided to stop if it was on the way. It was exactly on the way. Both the Ashbrook’s Burial Ground and the Fossil Park are off of Route 55, in an industrial shopping mall kind of place- about five minutes apart.
We stopped and walked around. Phil and I remember there being more of an open field at the burial grounds. No longer. Houses are moving in on the site but it is there. John Ashbrook, an indentured servant who earned his freedom and then bought a plantation in the area, is buried there. He left the land in his 1730 will to be made into a public burial ground, now the oldest known site in Camden County. Oddly, 50 Hessian soldiers are also buried there, retreating from the Battle of Red Bank in 1777. Another Revolutionary War hero is buried there as well making it part of New Jersey’s Revolutionary War history. The kids were amazed that our family had a connection to this place. Phil and I were amazed that we went so long ago, remembered it and went again. It was nice but once every 22 years is probably enough.
Next on the day of old things, the Fossil Park. Really this was a quarry (for marl, some sort of sandy substance used as a fertilizer) behind a Lowe’s. It was recently bought by Rowan University and endowed to be made into a citizen science site run by Dr. Kenneth Lacovia. Dr. Lacovia gave a short talk (and we also heard him on the SciFri podcast!) about how this site was a shallow sea and that fossils of sharks and sea turtles and moasaurs were being found all the time. The large skeletons are intact leading all to think that the creatures here died all at once. Dr. Lacovia spoke of how he is looking for the KT boundary, the iridium rich sediment from the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. How this extinction site could be one of its kind in the world for spotlighting the dying off.
 I sort of thought we would have a bunch of AP science type students and we did. But those students were the minority. I had somehow forgotten how much the preschool set loves dinosaurs. Those kids came out in droves. But are big kids were excited and stood by the other high schoolers who were also excited and standing apart from the parents. We dug but didn’t find much. The girls took what we found up to the onsite experts who looked it over. Everything we found was bagged up and named but it wasn’t a fossil and I can’t remember it. What I will remember is all of us driving home on a sunny day singing along with the They Might Be Giants Science Album, which we listened to daily during the Hong Kong years. The girls sang “I am a Paleontologist” with extra feeling and it was all worth it.