A Jurassic Discovery

Laurel, Maryland, is a diverse bedroom community located between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. It is in a transitional zone between the coastal plain to the east and the piedmont to the west. Laurel sits upon a unique geological formation called the Arundel Formation, composed of iron bearing clays.

Everyday people can join paleontologists in searching for bones at Laurel, Maryland’s Dinosaur Park. Photos Courtesy Donald K. Creveling

These clays beneath Laurel were formed 110 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period, when the area was delta-like, similar to the environment of southern Louisiana today.

Historically a source of iron ore, the clays were mined and the ore was processed as cast iron and steel. Laurel’s powerful Snowden Family made their wealth from the iron industry from the late 1600s until the mid-1800s.

But along with the iron ore was another resource–Dinosaur Bones!

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s (M-NCPPC) Department of Parks and Recreation in Prince George’s County opened Dinosaur Park in October of 2009. Dinosaur Park features a rare deposit of fossils from the Early Cretaceous Period, about 110 million years ago.

Here, paleontologists have unearthed fossilized bones of several kinds of dinosaurs, early mammals, and fossils of trees and flowering plants.

English scientist Sir Richard Owen coined the term “dinosaur” in the early 1800s to describe the ancient reptiles that roamed the earth from 230 to 65 million years ago. Since then, the discovery of dinosaur bones has captured the public’s interest and fueled our imaginations!

Most people in the United States associate dinosaur finds with the western states. However, significant finds of dinosaur bones have been found at Dinosaur Park, making it one of the most important dinosaur sites east of the Mississippi River, and a place where ordinary citizens can work alongside paleontologists.

African American iron miners discovered the first dinosaur bones in open pit mines in nearby Muirkirk in 1858. The clays of the Muirkirk Deposit at Dinosaur Park were a source of siderite, or iron ore, and iron furnaces operated in the area as early as the late 1600s. The most prominent furnace was the Muirkirk furnace located about one half mile south of Dinosaur Park. It operated from the mid-1800s until the 1920s.

Among the first scientists to become interested in the Muirkirk Deposit was Maryland State Geologist Phillip Thomas Tyson. He brought some of the “strange bones” discovered in the iron mines to a meeting of the Maryland Academy of Sciences in 1859. There they were identified as dinosaur teeth.

Academy member and dentist Christopher Johnston named the dinosaur Astrodon for the starburst pattern in the cross section of the teeth. The species name johnstoni was later added to reflect Johnston’s role in identifying Maryland’s first dinosaur, Astrodon johnstoni.

Astrodon johnstoni was the first dinosaur found in Maryland. Astrodon was a long-necked plant-eating dinosaur and may have been a type of sauropod called a brachiosaur or a titanosaur. Like all dinosaurs, Astrodon johnstoni walked erect with legs situated under its body (unlike lizards, which have sprawling legs that stick out to the side).

Page 1 of 3 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Bring Storytelling To Life
  2. The Art Of Exercise
  3. Pint-Sized Paradise
  4. Cre8Play Treasure Island
  5. Senior Health & Fitness Day
  • Columns
  • Departments