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Secret of Dinosaur Disappearances May Lie Near New Jersey Strip Mall

Nov 17, 2014 05:22 PM EST

The secret behind the dinosaur disappearances that occurred millions of years ago, supposedly from some giant meteor smash, may in fact lie right in your own neighborhood, near a New Jersey strip mall.

Once thought to be just any old shopping center, the Mantua Township quarry now could be a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils and the most important prehistoric dig site scientists have stumbled upon in years.

Paleontologists believe it contains animals that died when a meteor struck the Earth 65 million years ago, killing off these prehistoric behemoths.

"In the end, if our work doesn't find anything to disprove that, then this would be the only site in the world where we have fossils of organisms that actually died during that extinction event," paleontologist Paul Ullmann told Yahoo News.

"And that would be really cool."

Finding fossils at the New Jersey quarry isn't something out of the ordinary. Other prehistoric beasts from crocodile ancestors to mosasaurs, similar to giant Komodo dragons, have also turned up in the past. Scientists believe that the site once was a shallow coastal environment popular for such species.

"We know all these animals died at the same time because their bones are still put together," Ken Lacovara, a professor from Drexel University who is leading the dig team, told CBS News.

But Lacovara and his colleagues aren't the only ones working to unlock a window into the past. For the past three years, the excavation team has also called upon the public to help dig the site - so far 1,300 people have shown up to help.

Even with all the support, the team has literally just scratched the surface of this site.

"If we were to excavate here five days a week we could process an acre in 10 years and this property is 65 acres, so we have about 650 years of work left to do," added Lacovara.

So future paleontologists need not worry, they'll have their work cut out for them.

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