Fossil Contents of Utahraptor 'Megablock' Double Amount Originally Found

Friday, March 26, 2021

Photo by: Jim Kirkland / Utah Geological Survey

Fossils will eventually form an exhibit featuring a pack of Utahraptors

An 18,000-pound "megablock" unearthed in Grand County contains twice as many Utahraptor fossils as originally observed, the Utah Department of Natural Resources reports.

The massive block of sandstone, mudstone and fossils is 136,000,000-years old and was originally believed to contain the remains of at least one adult Utahraptor, ten juveniles and three babies.

Last year, the block was moved from the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point to a Utah Geological Survey facility.

Adult and juvenile Utahraptor dinosaurs attack an iguanodont dinosaur trapped in quicksand. By Julius Costonyi.

“The timing was very fortuitous because just a few weeks later, the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point had to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having the megablock in its own space allowed work to continue throughout 2020,” said State Paleontologist Dr. James Kirkland in a DNR news release. “The work is tedious. Separating the bones from the block has been like a 9-ton game of pick-up sticks.”

Since the move, researchers have discovered more baby and juvenile Utahraptor partial skulls and skeletons, and the first complete shoulder of an adult ever observed.

"Paleontologists have completed over 3,500 hours on fossil preparation, but have really only scratched the surface. Ninety percent of the work lies ahead and the preparation effort is being funded primarily with donations," the news release says.

Paleontologist Scott Madsen working at the Utah Geological Survey on the Utahraptor megablock in February 2021. Most of the work is done with the aid of small pneumatic air tools (think tiny jack hammer) while looking through a microscope.

The bones of at least two iguanodont dinosaurs have also been found in the block, leading scientists to believe the Utahraptors may have been hunting in a pack when they became trapped in quicksand.

The block's preservation of the remains has been described as "exceptional," giving scientists hope to find feather impressions and other fine details.

The Utahraptor is Utah's official state dinosaur and the real-life version of the "velociraptor" specimens in "Jurassic Park." The Utah Legislature is considering State Bill 57, which would create a Utahraptor State Park about 15 miles northwest of Moab.

Juvenile Utahraptor upper jawbone uncovered in 2020. The longest tooth is approximately ½ inch long.

The fossils recovered from the megablock will eventually form an exhibit featuring a pack of Utahraptors at the Natural History Museum of Utah. Click here for further details.

UGS is asking for donations to reach a $50,000 goal, which will be matched by a private donor, to advance the research on the megablock. Click here for details.