About two hundred years ago, lots of people in North America and in Europe were discovering all kinds of wondrous things in the ground. They found coal to burn for fuel, iron for making machinery, nickel for creating tools and candlesticks and other useful items. They found marl, a grey, clay-like substance full of calcium carbonate, garden lime, which made wonderful fertilizer. Those who owned the pits where such items were located counted themselves lucky and hired workers to dig up those resources and bring them to market to sell.
Diggers, especially those working in marl pits, found interesting things stuck in the thick, grey substance—bits of seashell, pieces of bone, and gigantic skulls that bore a resemblance to the small lizards that now ran in the fields. When they brought those curiosities home to show their children and neighbors, people were fascinated. It was clear that the marl pits had once been at the bottom of the ocean. They concluded that the skulls and bones must be left over from an ancient flood described in the Bible. The Bible story told of how all creatures, except for those in Noah's ark, had drowned. Surely such strange bones could only have come from that ancient flood!
But there were those who realized that something didn't quite fit with the flood story. They collected specimens—and wondered.
Let's move forward in time to 1839 in Haddonfield, New Jersey, William Hopkins hired workers to dig up marl in a stream bed in his backyard. As they dug, they cast aside shells and bits of bone. What was really important was removing the rich grey clay and getting to market to be sold. And then they encountered something extraordinary in the marl pit! The found a skeleton, complete except for the skull, of a giant lizard-like creature, a creature as tall as a house! The workers told Hopkins about their discovery. "Leave it be and dig around it," was his reply.
Three years later, a scientist in England looked at the pieces of bone he had collected from marl pits in his area and came forth with an astonishing theory. He concluded that the bits of bone proved that there were once great lizards—"dinosaurs" that roamed the earth. "Impossible!" "What folly!" "You have too big an imagination!" People all over the world criticized the new idea. According to the Bible, God created all species in the same week, about six thousand years ago. Giant lizards were no where mentioned in the Bible, so they must not have existed.
The debate raged between those who thought that dinosaurs might have once roamed the earth and those who thought such an idea nonsense. Meanwhile, the skeleton remained in the marl pit in Haddonfield, New Jersey.
For twenty years, William Hopkins had a giant lizard skeleton the size of a house in a marl pit in his back yard, and he never gave it a second thought. Until one day, when he invited his friend William Foulke over for dinner. Foulke was a collector of fossils, small bits of bone and shell, and Hopkins wanted very much to impress him. He told the story of the skeleton in the backyard over dinner that night in 1858. Foulke wasted no time. He was back the next day to view the find.
There it was in the marl pit- proof of the existence of dinosaurs. It was the first nearly complete skeleton to be found anywhere on earth. Its discovery made news worldwide!
Foulke arranged for workers to remove the skeleton from the pit and to exhibit the creature—named hadrosaurus foulkii—at the Philadelphia Museum of Natural History.
The existence of dinosaurs had been proven—and the race to find out more about these mysterious creatures had begun!