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Coelophysis on Long Island
Here's an article from today's NewsDay concerning tracks tentatively
attributed to Coelophysis, the first dinosaur fossil ever found on Long
Island (all rights reserved; copyright as indicated).
Copyright 1997 Newsday, Inc.
Newsday (New York, NY)
October 29, 1997, Wednesday, NASSAU AND SUFFOLK EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Page A07
LENGTH: 1397 words
HEADLINE: DINO-MITE FIND MADE ON ISLAND / FOSSIL HUNTER DUG UP TREASURE
ON NORTH SHORE BEACH
BYLINE: By Dan Fagin. STAFF WRITER. Mitchell Freedman contributed to
A small three-toed imprint on a piece of red shale that sat in the
closet of a self-taught fossil buff from Riverhead for more than 20
years was confirmed yesterday as the first dinosaur fossil ever found on
Long Island, surprised experts said.
"It's an amazing find," said Herbert Mills, the staff geologist for
Nassau County's museum system, after showing the 3-inch footprint to one
of the nation's leading experts on dinosaur tracks, who confirmed its
The 200-million-year-old print was made by either a Coelophysis
(pronounced SEAL-oh-FIE-sis) or a close relative of the 6-foot tall
ostrich-like meat eater, which looked something like the voracious
velociraptor in the movie "Jurassic Park" except for its longer neck and
smaller head and feet. The print's small size suggests it may have been
made by a juvenile, or perhaps a smaller unknown species.
"It's a very interesting and wonderful discovery," said Paul Olsen, a
professor of earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University's
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Rockland County, who confirmed the
track after examining it yesterday.
Olsen said he plans to revise the manuscript of his forthcoming book
on dinosaur tracks to include a description of the unique discovery made
by Glenn Magee, a sewer plant worker, who found the rock in the
mid-1970s on a North Shore beach and broke it open to find the dinosaur
"I love fossils. I was just determined to find something on Long
Island," said Magee, a 43-year-old maintenance worker in Riverhead's
sewage treatment department whose living room is festooned with dinosaur
Now that his discovery has been confirmed, Magee said, "I feel really
good about it. This is the first time I've ever had a first.' I guess
I've had my moment of glory, anyway."
Magee always thought he had found a dinosaur track, but didn't
realize its uniqueness until he read a story in Newsday last month that
said no dinosaur fossils had ever been found on Long Island. He then
contacted Mills because the geologist was quoted in the article, which
was part of Newsday's ongoing history series, Long Island, Our Story.
After Mills explained its significance, Magee decided to donate the
fossil to Nassau County's Garvies Point Museum in Glen Cove, where it
will soon be displayed.
What's extraordinary about Magee's discovery, experts said, isn't the
track itself but the fact that it was found on Long Island - more
specifically, on the beach a few blocks from Magee's home in Roanoke, a
hamlet north of Riverhead.
Several thousand dinosaur tracks, teeth and even bones have been
found upstate and in Connecticut, Massachusetts and northern New Jersey,
but never before on Long Island because the geology here is very
In those other places, a glacier scraped away layers of younger
sediment as the ice sheet expanded southward about 25,000 years ago,
exposing older fossil-laden bedrock below. But the glacier stopped at
the site of present-day Long Island about 22,000 years ago and began
receding north again, leaving in its wake a thick layer of bulldozed
sediment that formed the Island's distinctive fish shape and buried the
older dinosaur-era bedrock.
Magee's remarkable discovery doesn't prove dinosaurs ever lived here,
although most experts believe they probably did because fossils are so
common in nearby areas. The animal that made the track Magee found
probably lived in Connecticut, and the rock was eventually carried south
by the last glacier, Mills and other experts said. Hundreds of similar
dinosaur tracks have been found in siltstone in an area due north of
Roanoke known as the Connecticut Basin, including the famous tracks in
Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, Conn.
"It's a very unusual occurrence to find a track in a glacial boulder,
but it's not unheard of," said Olsen, who said the rock's weather-beaten
flat surfaces and distinctive striations confirm that it was transported
to Long Island by a glacier.
That the soft siltstone could be carried by an ice sheet all the way
to Roanoke from central Connecticut without being ground to powder is
unexpected, but certainly not impossible, experts said. In fact, they
said it's likely that other fossils are buried somewhere inside glacial
boulders in Riverhead, due south of the Connectict Basin.
"Stranger things have happened," said William Gallagher, a
paleontologist at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. "It's very
logical that it would be south of the Connecticut basin."
Experts said it was stroke of luck that the fossil-bearing siltstone
was found by a person who knew to crack it open, and could recognize the
imprint as a dinosaur track. "The amazing thing is that Magee recognized
it for what it was," he said.
Magee's rock probably began as silt located near a swampy lake or
river of the subtropical Jurassic time period, Olsen said. A dinosaur
walking on the silt compressed it and made a track, which was quickly
covered with wind-blown silt that was packed more loosely.
Over millions of years, the silt solidified into a reddish stone,
with the differing pressure zones created by the track forming a sort of
fault line with the rock. When Magee broke it open with a hammer, the
rock split along the fault and revealed the track inside.
There are at least two other kinds of dinosaurs - syntarsus or
podokosaurus - that may have left the track, Olsen said. Both are
similar to Coelophysis, and podokosaurus has been found in the
The track itself is what paleontologists call a grallator, which
refers to a small three-toed imprint in which the middle toe is longer
than the other two. Grallators have been found in New Jersey and
Connecticut, and near Nyack, N.Y.
The Connecticut basin is rich in dinosaur fossils because, like the
Newark basin in New Jersey, it is a sort of geologic "stretch mark" that
dates from the breakup of the supercontinent Pangaea about 200 million
years ago, soon after the dawn of the Jurassic period. As North America
pulled away from Africa and Europe, great valleys opened up that were
filled with fossil-rich sediments from adjacent areas.
A fossil buff ever since he was a child, Magee said he remembers
deciding to break open the piece of siltstone he found on the beach
because he knew that red rocks in Connecticut and southern Massachusetts
sometimes contained dinosaur fossils.
When he saw the track, he showed it to a few friends, but kept it in
a shoebox in his closet where it was almost forgotten amid his
collection of dinosaur books and other fossils sent to him by friends in
"I kind of knew what it was," said Magee. "I put it away. Once in a
while I'd take it out, but most of the time it sat in a box."
He doesn't think news of his discovery will make him famous. "If I
found the Hope Diamond, maybe," he joked. But he still likes to drive
his truck down to the reddish cliffs near Roanoke Point and break the
most interesting rocks he finds.
"I just like breaking rocks," Magee said.
Where dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the tri-state region,
with details of the first dinosaur fossil found on Long Island. SOURCE:
Columbia University; INCHES The MacMillan Illustrated Encyclopedia of
Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals INCHES Newark Basin Connecticut Basin
Valleys rich in dinosaur fossils 1. Roanoke, NY. 2. Haverstraw, NY. 3.
Buckland, CT 4. Rocky Hill, CT 5. Milford, NJ. 6. North Bergen, NJ. 7.
Roseland, NJ 8. Raritan, NJ 9. Freehold, NJ 10. Ellisdale, NJ 11.
Haddonfield, NJ 12. Barnsboro and Sewell, NJ 13. Coopersburg, PA 14.
Pottstown, PA Long Island's Own? The footprint found in Riverhead may be
a Coelophysis -- a small carnivorous dinosaur -- Long Island's first
known dinosaur fossil. But experts say the fossil probably was carried
here by a glacier around 22,000 years ago. Here are some characteristics
of the Coelophysis: Home: North America, particularly New Mexico and
Connecticut areas Time period: Late Triassic (About 200 million years
ago) Adult size: 8-10 feet long Weight: Probably less than 50 pounds
Head: Long and narrow; many sharp teeth with serrated edges. Hands: Four
fingers on each hand (three able to grasp prey). Feet: Three toes with
sharp claws on each foot. Hunting habits: Hunted in packs near streams
GRAPHIC: Chart - Unearthing History. Where dinosaur fossils have been
discovered in the tri-state region, with details of the first dinosaur
fossil found on Long Island (see end of text). Newsday Map/Illustration
By Philip Dionisio - Regions rich in dinosaur fossils and Coelophysis, a
small carnivorous dinosaur 1) Newsday Photo By David L. Pokress -
Geologist Herbert Mills holds halves of rock containing fossil. 2)
Newsday Photo By Jim Peppler - Glenn Magee
LOAD-DATE: October 29, 1997
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