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New Jersey Fossil Hunting


Guide to Cretaceous Fossil Hunting along the New Jersey Brooks

freehold Forecast

Monmouth County New Jersey

Fossil Hunting Guide to the Cretaceous Brooks of New Jersey

~67-74 Million Years Old
Late Cretaceous
This is your place to travel to find Cretaceous Fossil Shark Teeth

A quiet morning while fossil hunting for Shark teeth in Ramanessin brook, New Jersey.

Left Image: A fossil Mosasaur tooth lying on a gravel bank in Big Brook, New Jersey.
Right Image: A fossil Goblin shark tooth lying on a gravel bank along Big Brook.

Searching for gravel bars for fossil shark and mosasaur teeth
While Fossil Hunting, Climbing over fallen trees is a common occurance in the brooks.

Why Are There Fossils Here? About the Big Brook Fossil Area - New Jersey

Hadrosaurus foulkii is the first dinosaur specimen from North America. The 35 bones from this specimen are housed at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences

Due to the everlasting popularity of dinosaurs the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous time periods are well known to the public. When people think of the Era of the Dinosaurs, they may think of Paleontologists digging out west in the badlands of North America where the famous 19th century "Bone Wars" occurred.

However, not many people know that America's East Coast has its share of Dinosaurs! States all along the East Coast, from Main to Alabama all contain fossil deposits from the age of dinosaurs. In fact, in 1838 North America's very first nearly complete dinosaur was discovered in New Jersey. The specimen, a Hadrosaurus foulkii, was later studied in 1858. The first Mosasaur fossil described from North America was also discovered here!

Today amateurs fossil hunters can still go to New Jersey and find Dinosaur aged fossils. Anyone with an interest in fossils can enjoy a trip down to New Jersey to dig some up. One of the better known areas is in Monmouth County where Cretaceous age fossils can be found. Throughout the county, Big Brook and surrounding brooks cut through the ground, digging though the layers of earth. These brooks erode through recent layers, cut into the Pleistocene, and finally carve away at ancient fossil bearing Cretaceous deposits.

River Worn Hadrosaur Dinosaur Teeth - Although all dinosaur material is scarce, hadrosaur teeth tend to be the most common type of Dinosaur fossil found.

This is a Dryptosaurus dinosaur manual phalanx "finger" bone found in one of the brooks in New Jersey by Andrew Darling. This is a rare find. It has been donated to the Rowan University. If dinosaur bone is found, I recommend donating it to the NJ State Museum or to Rowan University so it can be catalogued and studied, as dinosaur material is scarce in the brooks.

Why are there Cretaceous fossils here?

During the Cretaceous, our continents were nearly in their present positions. However, the Earth was much warmer. This resulted in high sea levels. As a result, Europe was composed of numerous islands, while most of the North American coastal plain was submerged. States such as Georgia and Florida were completely submerged. The high sea levels also caused North America to be split in two. A great interior seaway flowed through much of the great plain states, from Texas to North Dakota and through Northern Canada. This can be seen in the sketch below.

New Jersey was also submerged. Remains of prehistoric animals accumulated on the sea floor that is now New Jersey. These remains were buried by the nutrient rich sediments coming from shore, and are now part of fossil bearing layers of the Monmouth Group. These Cretaceous marine fossil layers are exposed by brooks that cut down through sediments in the Big Brook area. Numerous fossils of sharks can be found as well as invertebrates such as mollusks and Belemnites. Also, the great reptiles that ruled the seas in the Cretaceous can occasionally be found. These creatures include Mosasaurs, Pleisiosaurs, and large Crocodiles. To learn about Mosasaurs, go to the Mosasaur Gallery.

However, since this area of New Jersey was only miles from the coast, the remains of land animals occasionally washed out to sea. Although rare, fossils of land animals can be found. These fossil remains are often pieces of dinosaurs, such as Hadrosaur teeth and bone fragments.

Fossils in the Big Brook area have been washed out of their sediments by the water action. These fossils can simply be found in Big Brook and surrounding brooks by screening gravel bars and walking the creek beds.

Rough sketch of North America during the Cretaceous

Book about the Geology and Paleontology of New Jersey:

The following book: When Dinosaurs Roamed New Jersey (Link to Amazon) is a great book to learn about New Jersey Paleontology and the geologic history of New Jersey. It is very accurate, as the author is a scholar in the field of paleontology. There is even a section that describes fossil hunting sites in New Jersey.

Identification of New Jersey Cretaceous Fossils:

Click on the image to go to the New Jersey Cretaceous Fossil Identification Section:

Cretaceous Fossils of New Jersey Identification Guide

Locations: Where to find the Cretaceous Fossils

The Fossils can be found just past Freehold in New Jersey. Some locations are shown below.
Please remember to adhere by the collecting regulations listed further down this page and do not tresspass on any private property. Stay in the creeks and DO NOT DIG.

Google Map of the Big Brook Preserve Parking Area in New Jersey

Fossils erode from the Cretacrous formations along the banks and bottom of brooks in central New Jersey. The fossils accumulate in gravel areas along the brooks. Below are some access points to the brooks:

1. Big Brook Preserve - Hillsdale Road

This is the official Big Brook Preserve. The address is: 95 Hillsdale Rd, Colts Neck, NJ 07722

It's a small pulloff on the side of the road. It's near the Winery (Four JGs Winery).

Once you park here, there is a small walk to Big Brook. Remember, when collecting fossils here, adhere to the regulations listed in the next section below.

Boundary Road Access point is Closed
The popular access point on Boundary Road is closed, please use this nearby Hillsdale Road access instead.

Fossil Collecting Regulations for Big Brook and Colts Neck Township:

If you plan on fossil collecting at Big Brook or the surrounding brooks, please be aware of the rules from the Township of Colts Neck. The Township link changes occasionally, so here are the rules pertaining to the fossils:

1. You may only keep 5 fossils per day

2. Your trowel is restricted to a maximum blade of 6 inches (no shovels)

3. Sifting screens can be a maximum size of 18"

4. The collection of fossils within the preserve is limited to those fossils found within the actual stream water line. Fossil extraction is prohibited from the walls of stream bed above the stream water line.

5. If you are in a group of 15 or more, you must obtain a permit first.

How To find Fossils in the Brooks

Fossils erode from the banks and bottom of the Brooks and collect in gravel areas.

The simplest way to fossil hunt is to slowely walk the creekbeds and carefully scan the gravel areas for the occasional fossil. The key is to SLOWELY walk. Take your time. To increase the fossil finds, both in quantity and quality, many people sift the gravel beds. A small shovel and sifter allows one to search through more gravel than simply scanning the ground for fossils.

The information below shows when to go, and what and recommended regulation equipment to bring.

When to Go

You can fossil hunt here any time of the year. However, some times can be better than others.

It's best to fossil hunt in the brooks just after rains and in the early spring. The rains and the freeze/thaw cycles erode more fossils out of the banks and into the grabel areas.

Fossil hunting during a rain storm is not recommended, as the brooks flood.

Fossil hunting in mid-summer during a drought is more difficult, as fewer fossils will have eroded out.

Recommended Fossil Hunting Equipment:

According to the township regulations, your trowel blade cannot be over 6", and your screen cannot be over 18" in size. I recommend the shovel and sifter shown below, they satify the regulations and are lightweight.

Waders or thick bottomed shoes - there is lots of broken glass in the stream beds.

Bug spray - there are lots of ticks and mosquitos in and around the streams!

Water - It gets hot in the summer, don't get dehydrated!

Recommended Equipment for Big Brook

SE 13 1/4 Inch Stackable Classifier Gold Prospecting Pan - 1/4 Inch Stainless Steel Mesh Sifting Pan, Green

This is a 13.25-Inch diameter and 3.5-Inch deep sifter. It's lightweight and the 1/4" screen is ideal for shark tooth sifting at the brooks. It is also under regulation size so you won't get fined! There is also a 1/8" screen version for the really small stuff, but I recommend the 1/4" version.

iunio Camping Shovel,Shovel Folding, Portable, Multitool, Foldable Entrenching Tool, Collapsible Spade, for Backpacking, Trenching, Hiking, Survival, Car Emergency (Basic E-Tool)

This is a small protable folding shovel to go with the small sifter. The blade is 6 inch regulation length, so it's good to go for in the brooks! Just remember to get this 17" length one, as the others have blades that are too large for the regulations.

Recommended Books for New Jersey Fossils and Paleontology:

When Dinosaurs Roamed New Jersey
William Gallagher, 1997

Explore New Jersey's geological journey from Cambrian seas to the Pleistocene Ice Age in 'When Dinosaurs Roamed.' Gallagher unveils fossil hunters' tales, ecological insights, and scientific controversies, offering a concise and captivating glimpse into the state's prehistoric wonders. Although it was written in 1997, it is still the best book on NJ paleontology out there!

101 American Fossil Sites You've Gotta See
Albert B Dickas, 2018

This is a great updated fossil sites book with at least one fossil site in each state. Each site is broken into 2 pages. One has detailed information, such as directions, GPS coordinates, formation information, etc... The other is dedicated to images of the site and the fossils found there. It also gives information on fossil 'viewing' sites such as dinosaur trackways, museums, and active excavations.
Plus, my fossil photos are peppered throughout this book, including the Big Brook site!

Website Links to other New Jersey Fossil Sites:

Fossils of New Jersey
This is a really nice site with great images and in depth information.

New Jersey's Premier Fossil Web Site
A good site to identify those New Jersey fossils. It has lots of images of Big Brook fossils.

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