Millions of years ago – more than 110 million, to be exact – Maryland wasn’t ruled by humans.
It was ruled by dinosaurs.
In fact, if you could travel back in time, you might not recognize Maryland at all. You’d see bayous and marshes, says Atlas Obscura, and the climate would feel a lot like that of modern-day Louisiana. Maryland’s dinosaurs shared this landscape with turtles, sharks, crocodiles, and mammals.
One of the most well-known dinosaurs in Maryland is Astrodon johnstoni, a giant herbivore whose name means “star tooth.” The first bones from the Astrodon were found near Laurel and Muirkirk in Prince George’s County by African American miners in the 1850s. Then-Maryland State Agricultural Chemist Philip Tyson took the bones to a local dentist, Dr. Christopher Johnson. Johnson sliced the tooth fossils into cross sections and found a star pattern. In an 1859 journal article, Johnson coined the term “Astrodon” to describe the dinosaur.
The Astrodons were 50 to 60 feet long and more than 30 feet tall. They weighed up to 20 tons and had small heads and long necks and tails. It is the official state dinosaur of Maryland.
How do we know all this?
Paleontologists have been digging at the site in Prince George’s County where those original fossils were found for decades. According to Atlas Obscura, the site is dense with fossils of dinosaur eggs and teeth, and in 1991, a family discovered a 6-foot-long femur bone fossil there.
Today, the area is known as Dinosaur Park, and it is operated by the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation. Encompassing about 41 acres, the park includes an interpretive garden with plants from the Cretaceous Era when these dinosaurs lived and a play area for kids.
(This image and top image via Atlas Obscura.)
Can you dig for fossils there? Yes, but only on certain days. The dig site is closed to visitors most days, and personal fossil hunting is not allowed. Interpretive programs take place the first and third Saturday of every month from noon to 4 p.m. During those special events, visitors can work alongside paleontologists to try and find more clues to Maryland’s ancient past.
The rest of the park is open daily from sunrise to sunset and is located at 13100 Mid-Atlantic Boulevard in Laurel. For more information about Dinosaur Park, visit http://www.pgparks.com/3003/Dinosaur-Park.
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