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Utah paleontologists looking to extract Utahraptor fossils

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah paleontologists are asking people to help raise $100,000 so they can extract Utahraptor fossils from a 9-ton block of stone to find out more about this sharp-clawed predator that lived during the Cretaceous Period.

The Utahraptor Project, a GoFundMe account with a $100,000 goal, will go toward uncovering bones inside the “Utahraptor Block,” a quicksand trap about the size of a king-size bed.

After starting the project last September, donations stalled around $16,000. But funding doubled almost overnight after a New York Times article highlighted the crowdfunding efforts.

Donations totaled more than $33,110 as of earlier this month, the Deseret News reported (http://bit.ly/2j7sScF ).

“We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into collecting this thing, and we want to see the project through. And we want to see it done right,” said fossil preparator and Utahraptor Project leader Scott Madsen.

The “Utahraptor Block” was discovered in 2001 by a geology student who spotted a bone sticking out from the Cedar Mountain hillside.

The student alerted Madsen and state paleontologist Jim Kirkland. The two paleontologists searched the mountainside, “armed with one photograph and a vague description of where this thing was in an ocean of rock,” Madsen said.

They found the site after hours of searching, but it took more than a decade to get the 9-ton sandstone slab off the hillside and into a museum lab in Lehi.

Madsen found that at least six dinosaurs are trapped inside the rock, with bones lying like pick-up sticks.

At least one dinosaur is a herbivore, possibly an iguanodont. The rest are Utahraptors, from “Jurassic World”-size adults to juveniles to newborn hatchlings. Madsen believes the bones could revolutionize the image of the Utahraptor.

The Utahraptor is typically displayed as 23 feet (7.01 meters) long, lanky, feathered and long-clawed. The shape and structure of the new Utahraptor bones are a bit different from what paleontologists thought the dinosaur looked like.

The juveniles are more stout, like adults. Madsen theorizes the dinosaurs may have hunted in family packs since a large range of Utahraptor ages were found in the sandstone.

“This might be the only well-documented quicksand trap in the dinosaur record,” Madsen said. “We’ve kind of got one shot at getting this right.”

After a number of failed attempts to find outside funding, Madsen launched the Utahraptor Project. Most of the money from the GoFundMe goes toward buying equipment, like microscopes and needle tools to uncover the bones.

But Madsen hesitated moving forward after donations slowed, partly because he still needs other tools, like 3-D computer software to document the position of the bones. He also has yet to be paid for his efforts.

“There are just so many bones, so densely packed, and in such good condition, we just didn’t want to trash them,” he said.

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