Paleontologist Martin Becker has spent his entire career studying shark teeth, but these days you can find him in this wooded area adjacent to Lot 6 on William Paterson University’s Campus. It’s in that unlikely place that Becker discovered 380 million-year-old fossils of sea creatures.
“Since 2006 we probably have discovered, I would say over 100 specimens, primarily these large squid-like creatures called Nautiloids. Knowing that this area is volcanic, it’s called the Preakness Basalt, no fossils happen in volcanic lava. The excitement began to build because it’s like where are these fossils coming from,” Becker, a William Paterson University Department of Environmental Science professor, said.
Ten years later, Becker was able to trace the fossils back to their original home.
“Glacial ice developed in Canada about 2 million years ago and crept down across New York state and the northern one-third of New Jersey was covered by this ice sheet. Glaciers are enormous agents of erosion. What they do they do is they transport boulders that are incorporated in their icy matrix, and when that icy matrix melts it superimposes those boulders on top of our regional bedrock. So, scattered throughout the William Paterson University campus in our wood area are boulders that belong in places like New York state, from areas up in Albany and as far north as the Adirondacks,” Becker said.
Becker says the marine fossils are a way to demonstrate how looking into the past can help predict the future.
“What it does is it speaks to an enormous amount time, change, climate and all the other important elements in reconstructing our Earth history and past,” he said.
Adjunct professor Harry Maish, along with two students, were part of a small team the helped Becker research, document and search for more fossils.
“Fossils are an outstanding and obvious reminder of sea level change, climate change,” said Maish.
“We take classes out around the campus looking for rock walls, places where rocks accumulate, where we can possibly find new sources,” said student Clint Mautz. “They love it because you get to take a hammer and chisel and crack them open.”
“When you really get to put your hands on something and look at something in a different way, or something that maybe, I mean you pass by rocks all the time and what do we think? Now I can’t get my head up off the ground. I have to look at everything and investigate,” said student Kristie Kline.
The discovery was detailed in a recent article in the largest electronic Paleontology journal in the world. Becker says he plans to put the fossils on display in a common area of campus like the student center or the library.