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Giant Block Of Dinosaur Remains Hauled To Salt Lake

Animated image depicting dinosaurs
Courtesy of the Utah Department of Natural Resources
Paleontologists believe a family of Utahraptors fell into quicksand around 125 million years ago, preserving the remains in a block of sandstone.

The Utah Geological Survey (UGS) packed up and moved an 18,000-pound sandstone block full of dinosaur bones Wednesday.

UGS paleontologists originally extracted the massive block in 2014 from the Stikes Quarry site, just north of Arches National Park. Since then, it’s been studied at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point before it was trucked to the Department of Natural Resources. 

UGS officials said the new location will give paleontologists and university students better access to the block, thought to be around 125 million years old. Based on excavations done so far, it’s estimated to hold at least six full Utahraptor and two Iguanodon skeletons. One theory suggests the Utahraptors had been hunting the Iguanodons when they were buried in quicksand. 

“This is just one of the more spectacular finds ever in Utah just because there's so many animals all trapped in this one little spot,” said Don DeBlieux, the assistant state paleontologist who originally helped uncover the block six years ago.

Photo of a semi truck transporting the block
Credit Jon Reed / KUER
The block was covered with plaster prior to the move to keep the bones safe. Don DeBlieux with the Utah Geological Survey said it will be removed over the next few weeks.

The move comes on the heels of a bill — recently passed in the House — that seeks to create a new state park from roughly 6,500 acres in Grand County. The park is designed in large part to help preserve some of the area’s rich paleontological history. 

More than 115 named dinosaur species have been found in Utah, including the Tyrannosaurus and the lesser-known Moabosaurus. There are still another 30 or so that have been discovered here but are yet to be named, according to state paleontologist Jim Kirkland. 

The Utahraptor is Utah’s state dinosaur and perhaps most famous for its role in the original Jurassic Park film, though it was misidentified as a Velociraptor. The average adult stood nearly 6 feet tall, had feathers and wings, and is thought to be one of the most intelligent dinosaurs of its time.

Kirkland said having several generations in one place helps scientists understand how the animals grew and hunted. Based on the block, he said he believes Utahraptors hunted in families.

“These things have been talked about as pack hunters for years,” Kirkland said. “Well, this may be a pack.”

DeBlieux said it will probably take another 20 years to extract all the bones from the block. They’ll be preserved at the Utah Natural History Museum and likely lent to museums around the country.

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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