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Context

In 2001, Matt Stikes, a former graduate student at Northern Arizona University, found a limb bone protruding from a rock in east-central Utah, north of Arches National Park, USA.
Free the raptors!
The site was reported to the Utah Geological Survey and early assessments on what was found soon began. Quickly, the importance of the find, become apparent. Trapped in an 18,000-pound block of quicksand now turned to stone is a hidden treasure of well-preserved Utahraptor fossils. Utahraptor ostrommaysorum is a large (around five meters or 18 feet long), feathered, predatory theropod dinosaur from Utah’s early Cretaceous (~124 million years ago), one of the geologically oldest and largest known dromaeosaurids.
"The Utahraptor at Dawn" by Emily Willoughby
This group of carnivorous dinosaurs had a large retractable sickle claw on its foot, used to attack and rip apart its prey. Prior to the discovery of Utahraptor, paleontologists believed sickle-clawed dromaeosaurids were small carnivores that only lived in the Late Cretaceous. Utahraptor required paleontologists to revise their understanding of this family of dinosaurs as it was much larger and lived in the Early Cretaceous. (Read more about Utah's Early Cretaceous Dinosaurs here).

The reconstruction that paleoartist Julius Csotonyi generously donated to the project (see below or click here) explains how the undetermined number of dinosaurs that were preserved at the site came to perished. Six Utahraptors and two iguanodontid dinosaurs (at least) are believed to got entrapped in the quicksand attracted to easy prey, in a group, and in a short period of time. Researchers expect that as the already retrieved large block of petrified quicksand is carefully made to share its secrets, new evidences on the social behavior of Utahraptors, particularly its pack hunting behavior, will be revealed.

Objectives

The death trap. Dinosaurs illustrated by Julius Csotonyi (Kirkland et al., 2016: 436)
In September of last year, the Utahraptor Project research team published a paper in Palaios describing the discovery and stating the reasons for its prospective significance (read it here). A number of early fossil findings were described and, since, photogrammetry was used extensively to further pry into the secrets of the dinosaur death trap. At the right of this text, you will find an account of the current state of the project. It is now stopped waiting for the funds that will make the beginning of phase 5 (Preparation), finally possible. A fundraising campaign was launched last September and donations are welcomed here. There is still a long way to go before releasing these dinosaurs from their trap and into glory ~124 million years later, and you can help.

Milestones and Achievements

1. The site was discovered and preliminarily assessed.

2. Initial excavations reveal the remains of several well-preserved Utahraptors ranging in size from tiny juveniles to adults, as well as at least two Iguanodont dinosaurs.

3. The enormous sandstone block was removed in full over ten consecutive seasons of fieldwork by the project team and many volunteers.

4. Volunteers and businesses donated their services to recover the nine-ton block from its steep hillside location. Now it seats, safely guarded, waiting for the funds that will enable the preparation phase to begin.

 5. Upon securing the necessary funding, the project team anticipates spending 5 years or more preparing the Utahraptor block in the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point’s paleontology lab.

 6. As the fossil preparation work advances, paleontologists will be studying the fossils. A number of groundbreaking studies could come from this unprecedented trove of Utahraptor fossils.

Project Team

Gallery

Retrieving and moving the block.
Preliminary evaluation and early findings.
Sources:
- Kirkland, J. I., Simpson, E. L., DeBlieux, D. D., Madsen, S. K., Bogner, E., & Tibert, N. E. (2016). Depositional Constraints on the Lower Cretaceous Stikes Quarry Dinosaur Site: Upper Yellow Cat Member, Cedar Mountain Formation, Utah. Palaios, 31(9), 421-439.
- The rest of the sources and the copyright material we present do not belong to us and were provided by the project team for divulgation purposes.

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