Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Utahraptor Project competition

As many of you out there in Chasmoland will already be well aware, one of the most tantalising bonebed discoveries of the last decade was the that of a huge trove of Utahraptor skeletons in (fittingly enough) Utah. Fossilised alongside the remains of at least two iguanodontian ornithopods are the bones of numerous Utahraptor individuals at different growth stages, which promise to finally reveal what this formerly rather engimatic animal really looked like. (Suffice it to say, it certainly wasn't the monstrous steroidal Deinonychus that you remember from your childhood.)

The site was discovered by Matt Stikes back in 2001, and the huge block o' bones was subsequently excavated by Jim Kirkland (who described Utahraptor), Don DeBlieux and Scott Madsen along with numerous volunteers. The block is now being prepared in the Museum of Ancient Life in Lehi, Utah, under the auspices of Madsen (as Chief Preparator). You can read the full story of the project - from discovery, to excavation, to preparation - over on the official Utahraptor Project site, where there's also a handy index of Utahraptor-related press...not to mention this lovely video featuring Jim himself.

As you might have already gathered, there's currently a campaign underway to raise awareness about the Utahraptor Project because, well, they could do with some help! Preparing a gigantic block of dinosaur bones takes a lot of time, effort, equipment and expertise. To that end, there is now a GoFundMe page for the Project. Twenty-five United States Dollars (which must be worth, ooh, about 500 GBP by now) will get you access to an exclusive Project blog, so check it out.

To help spread the word, we at LITC have decided to do what we do best, and hold a slightly silly art contest. The scientists' thinking, as outlined in a paper published last year in the journal PALAIOS (Kirkland et al. 2016), is that the site represents a predator trap, where herbivores mired in quicksand attracted the hungry Utahraptor, who then became stuck themselves. It's a hypothesis that will be "tested during the preparation of the large Utahraptor block", and has already been beautifully illustrated by Julius Csotonyi.

But never mind the scientists - we're going to dismiss experts in a truly Goveian* fashion. In the same spirit as our previous 'T. rex succeeding' contest, what we'd like you to do is illustrate how you think all those dinosaurs ended up in the bonebed, but in a tongue-in-cheek, humorous way. Think of all those old illustrations depicting a herd of Iguanodon randomly tumbling into a crevasse in Belgium (but ignore that they were supposed to be serious).

Art by Emily Willoughby (2014), CC licensed
As before, extra points will be awarded for making your Utahraptor as anatomically correct as possible. This is difficult, of course, given the lack of reference material that's out there, so there's more leeway than with T. rex. Thus-far unpublished material suggests an animal that was stocky, in the Achillobator mould, and might even have had some weird protruding lower teeth. Check out Emily Willoughby's 2014 illustration above.

Upload your contributions...somewhere, leave a link to them in the comments, and (pretty please) mention and link to the Utahraptor Project. Make it a single image if at all possible; mini-comic strips are permitted, but kudos will be awarded for producing a striking, memorable image. Make us laugh, bowl us over with your originality and you might win the wonderful prize of...er...I don't know...one or two of the dinosaur books I've featured in the blog before. And I'll throw in a nice card and get Natee (and whichever other artists I can collar in the pub) to doodle inside it. Howzat? Go on, it's for Science! UPDATE: Joschua Kn├╝ppe has also promised to produce an artwork for the winner, which is very kind of him.

The deadline is April 11, so get drawing and spread the word!

*With apologies for yet another shamelessly Brit-centric joke.


  1. Hi. Long time listener - first time caller.

    I´m a Swedish illustrator who just came out with a dinosaur book called "Alla tiders Dinosaurier" (Dinosaurs of the ages/all ages). The aim with the book was to show off the dinosaurs in a highly stylised but still (fairly) scientifically accurate way.

    Now, one of the illustrations from that book happens to depict a Utahraptor attacking an unfortunate juvenile iguanodontian and I just couldn´t resist throwing it up here. Of course this isn´t made specifically for this contest, but it might perhaps serve as inspiration. If you regard this as spam please feel free to delete this post.

    Anyway - here´s my take on everyones favourite giant dromaeosaur:


    Cheers and keep up the good work! This is a true paleo-blog favourite.

  2. Good lord, this is fantastic! I really like the style here.

  3. Hey. Thanks for an amazing blog. I just uploaded my contribution to the comments of your facebook post. Hope you'll enjoy it.


    1. Could you please upload it somewhere and post a URL here?


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