There’s no age limit to the human fascination with dinosaurs, so it’s good news for science that interest translates to collaborative efforts when public funding for exploration and documentation run low.
Raptor Cam? Sounds enticing!
Millions of years ago, on a mud flat somewhere in Cretaceous Utah, a group of Utahraptors made a grave mistake: They tried to hunt near quicksand. The pack’s poor fortune has given modern paleontologists an opportunity to decode the giant raptor — its appearance, growth and behavior — but only if they can raise the money.
Enter “The Utahraptor Project,” started on GoFundMe last year with a $100,000 goal. It offers backers access to a field worker’s blog, a live “Raptor Cam” and digital models of the find put together through the process of photogrammetry. While it is far from reaching its goal, the team is optimistic.
“Once we get this up and running, with all the cameras and gizmos to record the action on a micro and macro level,” said Scott Madsen, a fossil preparator, “I think we can give the public a good show for their money.
Utahraptor, 23 feet long and weighing over a ton, was one of the largest dromaeosaurs, feathered, sickle-clawed dinosaurs closely related to birds. Since its discovery in 1991, it has been the subject of a popular novel, assorteddocumentaries and tie-in toys from “Jurassic Park.” But for all its fame, the predator has been known primarily from only a few remains. That changed in 2001, when a geology student found a leg bone emerging from a hillside in the Cedar Mountain formation in eastern Utah.
Over 12 field seasons, a team of paleontologists with the Utah Geological Survey found an ever-expanding tangle of bones in the 126-million-year-old rock. When the final slab of sandstone was removed in 2014, said Jim Kirkland, Utah state paleontologist, it weighed nine tons and contained the skeletons of a herbivorous dinosaur, a 16-foot adult Utahraptor, four juveniles and a recent hatchling.
The block proved too heavy for the lab at the University of Utah, and in 2015 ended up on reinforced floors at the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. Mr. Madsen, then an employee of the Utah Geological Survey with experience preparing fossils at Dinosaur National Monument, began the long process of cleaning the bones. Two months later, he had been laid off: The agency’s budget, which is partly funded by the proceeds from drilling on state land, was hit hard by the 2014 plunge in oil prices. There wasn’t any money to pay him…
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