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Paleontologists trying to move 5-ton herd of fossilized dinosaurs

By John Hollenhorst  |  Posted Jun 10th, 2013 @ 10:28pm


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MOAB — Utah paleontologists are looking for one enormous helicopter to lift a herd of dinosaurs

It may sound like fiction or a scene from Jurassic Park, but there's a herd of Utahraptors near Moab and paleontologists are trying to figure out how to move it.

The Utahraptors are fossilized on a steep slope, just below a cliff. The herd is protected by a jacket of plaster and burlap.

"It's certainly one of the most amazing things that I've ever seen in my career," said Don DeBlieux, a paleontologist with Utah Geological Survey.

The area the dinosaurs were found in is believed to have been a death trap. State paleontologist Jim Kirkland theorizes that 100 million years ago a pack of Utahraptors attacked a plant-eating dinosaur stuck in quicksand.

"(They) found this big hulking herbivore stuck in the mud," Kirkland said. "They went in, probably a feeding frenzy, these Utahraptors — old ones and young ones — and in turn, a bunch of these animals got stuck in the mud."

KSL's Chopper 5 took Kirkland up for a better look. He said scientists have been carving out the pile of bones for a decade. Around the edges of the five-ton rock, they've found numerous jawbones and Kirkland believes there are more than a dozen dinosaur remains throughout the mass.

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"This thing was found in 2001 by a student doing geology out here," Kirkland said. "What's in it is so dense, we can't put an ice pick into it without hitting a skeleton."

The next step for paleontologists is to get the rock to the lab and pick it apart.

"What's really good about this, too, is the preservation of the bones is just exceptional," said Scott Madsen, another paleontologist with UGS.

The biggest problem the scientists are running into is how to get the mass from place to place. It will require a heavy-lift helicopter from out of state, and that's far outside the UGS budget. Instead, the group is hoping for donations to help fund the project.

"This is pretty much bigger than anything the Air National Guard in Utah has available," Kirkland said.

Since the chopper option seems unlikely, Ames Construction is donating its services to an alternate plan: building a protective box and dragging the thing down the steep slope. However, the paleontologists worry the fragile fossil may not survive the bumpy ride.

"Because when you flex it, all the rock fractures and the bone inside fractures along with it," Madsen said.

They may risk it; after a decade, they're anxious to get the prize fossil into the lab to see what's really inside.

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