A large dinosaur in the center of the gallery
September 5, 2023

South Jersey Fossil Park Reimagines the Natural History Museum

A New Approach

The new natural history experience in Mantua Township, NJ doesn’t take the form of a traditional museum—it’s a fossil park. Sitting on the site of an active six-inch bone bed, the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park & Museum at Rowan University will invite visitors to not just see fossils, but actually find fossils themselves. The galleries aren’t divided into scientific categories as you might expect in most natural science museums. Instead, the story of the dinosaurs’ extinction unfolds like a three-act play across the museum, as envisioned by paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, the Founding Dean of Rowan’s School of Earth & Environment and Executive Director of the 65-acre Fossil Park. 


As visitors travel through the galleries, they move from dinosaurs thriving during the Cretaceous period, to the fifth extinction event at the end of that era, to our current climate crisis and sixth extinction. The journey is enhanced by a custom-designed RFID experience that includes a scavenger hunt game and Act Now! Kiosks that allow visitors to take action to push back on the climate and biodiversity crises before walking out the doors of the museum. 


Set to open in spring 2024, Edelman Fossil Park Museum has been highlighted as one of Smithsonian Magazine’s most anticipated museum openings in the world.


More to Southern New Jersey Than Meets the Eye

Why here? Why now? 


The dig site at the Edelman Fossil Park Museum reflects an extremely special geological moment, right in Southern New Jersey, where Earth’s ancient history is anything but abstract. This location brings together evidence from the fossil record with the last global extinction event, 66 million years ago. In other words, to walk through this site and museum is to engage directly with natural history: to see the past in our present. 


According to Dr. Lacovara, a deep-time perspective on our ancient past can empower communities to take urgent action to protect our planet. “We want to show people through the lens of deep time that our future is not guaranteed—we have to fight to keep a healthy biosphere, a healthy atmosphere, and a healthy environment for all of us,” says Dr. Lacovara. Through on-site engagement with evidence of the catastrophic extinction event that wiped the dinosaurs from the planet, visitors can truly understand that pivotal moment in history. The staying power of the experience rests in the connection between that moment and the current climate crisis facing all life on Earth today. This vantage point has always been part of Dr. Lacovara’s vision and mission for the Edelman Fossil Park Museum.

Ken’s hope is that people visiting the museum appreciate the Cretaceous past, understand the impact of the very place where they’re standing right now, and connect that with action for the future.
Natalie Tschechaniuk, Senior Integrated Producer

Come for the Dinosaurs, Stay for the Impact

Inside the museum, visitors are transported to the eve of the meteor that caused the fifth mass extinction. We travel from land to sea in the Cretaceous galleries through a sound-enriched, immersive environment that reflects the messy, precarious daily lives of dinosaurs, sea creatures, and reptiles. Life-sized models portray these prehistoric creatures in action—fighting and protecting, eating and fleeing, succeeding and dying. 


“The goal is to portray our dinosaurs and other creatures as authentic beings, with backstories, challenges, and triumphs—as real-world beings, not cartoons from the past,” says Dr. Lacovara.


Visitors can also find fossil clues hidden throughout the landscape as part of the RFID scavenger hunt. The experience culminates at the Extinction and Hope galleries, highlighting the ongoing sixth extinction that we face along with the climate crisis and encouraging visitors to take action. Outside, visitors have a hands-on opportunity to continue their scavenger hunt and dig for fossils, or enjoy the walking trails and dinosaur-themed playground, complete with a giant Pteranodon climbing structure.  


The building, designed by Ennead Architects, will be the state’s largest carbon net-zero facility upon opening, powered by green energy and renewable energy produced by the museum’s own systems. The museum windows are bird-safe glass, a technology which is based on the evolutionary principles explained in the exhibits. The end result is an awe-inspiring experience, motivating action, stewardship, and sustainability.

I think hope is a choice. And there’s nothing that gives people more hope than agency — the ability to do something to better their situation, to better the situation on the planet, and for all those to come.
Natalie Tschechaniuk, Senior Integrated Producer
Dinosaurs are a hook to get adults and children interested in science, and to understand the importance of science in sustaining the future of the planet and humankind. We can make people feel empowered to participate in that in a positive way.
Dr. Lacovara

Environmental Citizenship

Though the primary focus at Edelman Fossil Park Museum is natural history, visitors will leave with a transformed sense of our contemporary world. A museum has the power to impact individual behavior, and teach us how to better command our collective future. At the Edelman Fossil Park Museum, this anything-but-ordinary science museum serves its audience as a positive teaching tool, and building from a historical and ecological perspective, energizes people with a moving, hands-on approach.