EWING, NJ -- Martin A. Becker, assistant professor of physics and geology at The College of New Jersey, has identified a vertebra belonging to the extinct Ice Age elk-moose.
The discovery demonstrates the drastic geological changes to the New Jersey shoreline during the past 25,000 years, according to Becker. Current sea level rise off the New Jersey Coast is approximately 1 inch per year.
"This discovery reflects sea level change in the state of New Jersey," Becker said. "The position of the shoreline is temporary. The ocean has moved in about 25 miles from where this land-dwelling mammal's vertebra was discovered."
Becker said the changing ocean level soon could affect New Jersey's over-developed shoreline. "With current sea level rise, our over-developed shore line could be in trouble within the next 50 years," Becker said.
Commercial clam fishermen, who discovered the vertebra 25 miles southeast of New Jersey's Manasquan Inlet, gave the fossil to Becker, a former shell fisherman.
This finding is extremely rare. There are six other known discoveries of elk-moose remains found in New Jersey and its surrounding continental shelf. They are about 11,000 years old. However, a radiocarbon test revealed the age of this vertebra to be 23,520 +/- 170 years old.
Several factors point to this identification being correct. The vertebra's characteristics nearly are identical to the cervical vertebrae at the New Jersey State Museum, which is considered to be one of the finer skeletons of this species.
Elk-moose inhabited North America between 10,000 and 34,000 years ago. As previously noted, this fossil is approximately 24,000 years old.
In addition, the location where the newly discovered vertebra was found is consistent with the environmental conditions that elk-moose were known to have occupied. According to Becker, elk-moose favored periglacial paleoenvironmental areas, which were locations that bordered a glacial spot but actually were not covered by ice. During the last Ice Age, the northern one-third of New Jersey was under glacial ice, Becker said.
When large masses of glacial ice form, sea level falls. Therefore, animals would have inhabited the southern two-thirds of the state and areas seaward of our present shoreline that were not covered by glacial ice.
Becker said that although a neural arch is missing, the vertebra, which measures about five inches in diameter, is still in "fairly good condition." The fossil has been donated to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton.
Although the elk-moose probably looked similar to the current moose, Becker said the antler structures are quite different.
Becker will present his findings about the vertebra at the 112th annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. The meeting will be held Nov. 9-18, 2000, at the Reno/ Sparks Convention Center, Reno, Nevada. Approximately 7,000 geoscientists are expected to attend.
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