200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 123: “Submerged Off the Jersey Shore ”

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woolly mammoth and American mastodon fossils collected of the shore of New Jersey
Three of the fossils in the Academy's Vertebrate Paleontology Collection that were found off the coast of New Jersey. The fossil on the left is a molar tooth from a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius). It was collected off Cape May. The other two fossils are molars from American mastodons (Mammut americanum). The one on the right was collected off Wildwood, while that in the center was collected off Atlantic City.

Submerged Off the Jersey Shore

You may not realize it, but the Jersey Shore used to be much farther away. Huge quantities of water were trapped in the massive ice sheets that covered much of North America and Eurasia during the Pleistocene Ice Age. Even more water was trapped in the floating ice sheets that covered the northern and southern oceans. With all that water trapped in ice, sea levels dropped dramatically.

Academy paleontologist and geologist Horace G. Richards (1906–1984) was an expert on how the Ice Age affected changing shorelines. He estimated that sea level along New Jersey was about 300 feet lower at the peak of the Ice Age than it is today. As a result, the land extended an estimated 90 miles beyond the current shoreline. Ice Age giants, including the woolly mammoth and the American mastodon, roamed this exposed landscape, and their fossils occasionally find their way into the nets of fishermen operating miles offshore.

Visit ansp.org to see more fossils of American mastodons and woolly mammoths.

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