A block of sandstone that was discovered on a Utah mountain last year turned out to be a death trap of a predatory dinosaur called Utahraptors, making it the biggest fossil trove to date of this large feathered creature.
The Utahraptor, the largest member of a group of carnivores known as dromaeosaurus, has a large sickle claw on each of its second toe and is described by experts to resemble its cousin, the more popular Velociraptor.
Utah state paleontologist James Kirkland and his team have so far found the remains of six Utahraptors in the rock and believe that more are still trapped there.
The discovered fossils of the dinosaurs appear to have been trapped in the quicksand millions of years ago when they died; the fossils were found within a large blob of sandstone that looked to have once been a quicksand, which geologists call "dewatering feature."
In the Jurassic Park films, the velociraptors were seen working together while chasing prey, and the new fossils could be instrumental in resolving whether or not predators indeed hunted in groups just as it was portrayed on the silver screen.
If scientists could show that the dinosaurs died together, or provide proof that the same weather patterns affected the raptors' bones when they died, it could serve as evidence that could add weight to the idea of group hunting among raptors
Thomas Holtz, Jr., a paleontologist from the University of Maryland, said that if the arms and legs of the skeletons were tangled together, it could hint of a pack behavior. The degree to which the fossils were damaged by the sun and the exposure before the ancient animals were buried could also shed light on whether these predators were buried together at the same time or at different times.
"If a careful study of sedimentology supports the idea that this was a predator trap, and the dromaeosaur bones are all found fossilized in a similar condition and a position that indicates that they were mired, then I think the team will have a solid case that this is more than just a jumble of bones, but evidence that some dromaeosaurs did live and hunt together socially," said University of Edinburgh paleontologist Stephen Brusatte.
The recent discovery also included bones that were never seen before, and these are already making changes to scientific views of the anatomy of the Utahraptors. The discovered remains, for instance, revealed that while young Utahraptors were lightly built and were the size of turkeys, the adults were heavily muscled.