Edelman Fossil Park: Dreaming of Dinosaurs Creates Pathways for 21st Century Scientists

By James E. Samels and Arlene L. Lieberman


At Edelman Fossil Park, the past comes alive for people of all ages.    Children, campers, families and students all get to dig alongside paleontologists in a site rich with fossils from the Cretaceous period – the heyday of the dinosaurs.  Fossils capture the imagination of a broad audience transcending the boundaries of age, educational background, economic circumstances, and geography.


Rowan University, a New Jersey public institution, forged a new vision for educating our children when it purchased the endangered fossil site at a Mantua, New Jersey quarry and added a new School of Earth and Environment.


The Nation needs a significant workforce in the geosciences and environmental sciences to address pressing societal issues…  Hands-on engagement in paleontology forges an alluring gateway to these and other STEM careers. Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, Director of the Rowan University Fossil Quarry and Founding Dean of the Rowan School of the Earth & Environment.


Rowan University alumni, Jean and Ric Edelman made a vital contribution to science when they stepped in to expand and preserve the site.   In acknowledging their $25 million gift, Rowan’s President Ali A. Houshmand said, “The Edelman’s passion for sharing discovery and science will transform and expand Rowan’s capacity to educate generations to come.”



“Their vision and generosity will make it possible for tens of thousands of students, families and researchers to explore a range of hands-on sciences at a globally significant site – paleontology, but also geology, biology, environmental science, and more.  Visitors will be able to dig up the past and learn about the future of our world through many disciplines.  Edelman Fossil Park will be an international science center and a premier destination for our region,” he added.


Although the fossils may date back 66 million years ago, it was not until the 1920s, when the Inversand Company began dredging the quarry that the fossils were discovered.  Inversand understood the importance of preserving the fossil site.  When changing times brought an end to their business, Inversand continued to keep the quarry open, pumping out groundwater at great expense and saving a one-of-its-kind layer of fossils from ending up at the bottom of a lake.


Rowan alumnus Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, an internationally known paleontologist who had been conducting research at the quarry for 13 years while at a Philadelphia university, introduced Rowan’s leadership to the quarry’s potential when Inversand could no longer sustain the losses of keeping the site operational. Quickly recognizing the educational, scientific and historical significance of the site, the University purchased the quarry for $1.95 million in 2015. Shortly after, Lacovara joined Rowan and was named Director of the Fossil Park and was charged with developing the Rowan School of Earth and Environment.


Scientists have long wondered what other life forms existed at the time of the dinosaurs and why dinosaurs became extinct.  Edelman Fossil Park, with a concentrated layer of 65 million year old marine fossils, offers a rare window into the earth’s past and may hold important clues to solving an ancient mystery, the mass extinction of dinosaurs and other life forms. 


The longterm plans for Edelman Fossil Park will expand it beyond an excavation site to include a state-of-the art museum, visitor center, fossil preparation lab, nature trail, paleontology-themed playground, spaces to hold social events, but most importantly an opportunity for students and families to be immersed in paleontological digs and help scientists discover more fossils from the dinosaur age.


Over time, virtual technologies will enable Rowan University and Edelman Fossil Park to have a global reach.  The flow of domestic and international visitors also will have a large economic impact on the region and significantly advance Rowan’s science agenda.


Rowan’s purchase of the site, together with the Edelman’s momentous gift, saved the site and laid the groundwork for a university-community partnership for STEM education and citizen science, an alliance that is rich with potential and poised for success.


Edelman Fossil Park offers a rare opportunity for unearthing fossils to a wide spectrum of visitors from families and students to renowned paleontologists, yet is conveniently located within 20 minutes of Philadelphia and one-day’s drive for a third of the nation’s population. 


Every year since 2012, the Park has held an annual Community Dig Day.  The event is so popular that the two thousand spots for the fifth annual Dig Day filled within minutes.  Participants learn about the site’s history and scientific importance and then observe the excavation area.  Next, they get to dig for fossils in designated areas and frequently bring home their finds. 


With the addition of camps, this summer dozens of school children took part in the adventure of a lifetime, digging alongside Rowan University paleontologists for dinosaur fossils.


Dinosaurs and fossils offer an exciting way to introduce young people to the world of science.

“Paleontology is art, science, and imagination.  It inspires a wealth of curiosity by students about ancient life.  More than any other science, paleontology offers opportunities for young students to become involved in learning science.”according to Richard K. Stucky, Curator of Paleoecology & Evolution at the Denver Museum of Nature and author of The Window to Science Education.


The power of the ancient past inspires people of all ages since nearly every visitor leaves with a 65 million year old fossil that they dug with their own hands.  The experience of digging fossils is invaluable for all.   For many, the opportunity to work alongside paleontologists and engage in a hands-on activity is their first exposure to science.  This important first step may open the path to a lifelong pursuit of scientific knowledge and a career in science.


By James E. Samels, President and CEO, The Education Alliance, co-author of Consolidating Colleges

Arlene L. Lieberman, Senior Consultant, The Education Alliance