In southern New Jersey, some 15 miles away from Philadelphia, the key to the demise of the dinosaurs may be lurking behind a suburban Lowe’s store. The Inversand quarry in Mantua Township contains thousands of fossils that date back as much as 66 million years, when the area was at the bottom of the sea. The 6-inch layer of earth some 40 feet below the ground is a rich source for paleontology research, one that may be able to finally provide solid evidence that the dinosaurs died off in a mass extinction after a meteor struck the Earth about 66 million years ago. 

Kenneth Lacovara, paleontologist at the local Rowan University, is trying to prove this hypothesis—which is common among paleontologists but difficult to find fossil evidence for—using a mass of nearly intact skeletal remains found in this thin layer of sediment. Because many of the larger skeletons are still fairly intact, it’s likely that the animals died off at the same time—as in a mass extinction. The fossils date back to about the same period as the meteor impact on what is now Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. 

The 65-acre quarry, once the source of a water treatment product called marl, shut down amid the 2007 recession. In September, Rowan agreed to pay $1.95 million to buy the site and turn it into a citizen science lab, preserving the area for future scientific research. While Lacovara doesn’t have enough evidence to prove the mass extinction hypothesis just yet, the mass of fossils from 66 million years ago will provide scientists with a better idea of what went on at that time. 

[h/t: The New York Times]