A bit on the ‘fighting dinosaurs’

IMGP0681There are many dinosaur (and other fossil) specimens that are famous not so much for what they are as what they show (as with Big Mama featured here the other day). A complete T.rex is all very well (and very useful and interesting and fundamentally cool, I’m happy to admit), but some things are so incredibly rare and unlikely to preserve that to have them as fossils is truly amazing. The most obvious archosaurian example of this is the famous fighting dinosaurs of Mongolia that show a Velociraptor and Protoceratops locked in combat. These have become the subject of much analysis and much speculation as to quite how they died and got preserved in such a posture.


I’m going to join in that debate any further but merely point out that the Velociraptor has its foot claw jammed up in the throat region of the Protoceratops, but equally has its arm stuck in the mouth of its adversary. They may or may not have died together, but it is certainly possible that this was a case where each killed the other. It’s also worth noting that they are preserved pretty much in 3-D and have not collapsed into the sand as one might expect, something that is actually quite common in specimens from the area.


These photos are of a fantastically well made cast of the pair that are on display in Japan. While photos of the original have been reproduced many times in all kinds of media, they always seem to be of the same shot, or at least one taken from the same angle, so hopefully these will provide some interest.


While the photos are mine, I have graciously been given permission to post these by the Fukui Prefectual Museum. Please do not reproduce these.

24 Responses to “A bit on the ‘fighting dinosaurs’”

  1. 1 Mike Keesey 22/05/2009 at 9:10 am

    Wow, great to see different angles! I hadn’t realized just how 3D it was. Thanks for posting these.

  2. 2 Mickey Mortimer 22/05/2009 at 10:36 am

    The annoying thing is that the specimen has never been published in detail. The only real description is 3 pages of Russian which I doubt most theropod workers have even seen.

    Barsbold, 1974. Dueling dinosaurs. Priroda. 2, 81-83. [in Russian]

  3. 3 David Hone 22/05/2009 at 10:53 am

    Yeah, they really need a good formal description. If you trawl through the literature there are quite a few details in various papers that mention them, but there’s no serious detailed work on them, and frankly there a whole Masters or PhD in this one specimen.

  4. 5 Mike Keesey 22/05/2009 at 11:54 am

    1974?! I had no idea it was that old. 😮

  5. 6 Andrea Cau 22/05/2009 at 1:35 pm

    Idiot question: where is the holotype housed?

  6. 7 David Hone 22/05/2009 at 8:06 pm

    Roger: actually I doubt that’s an issue. The problem is a lack of palaeontologists and money. They have only a handful of vertebrate researchers and one of the biggest and best sites in the world for Lte Cretaceous material, they can’t do everyhting and both taxa are (and even then, were) quite well known.

    Andrea: it’s in Ulan Baator, but there are actually 2 or 3 museums there and I don’t actually know which one it’s based in, though I do knwo Richen Barsbold works there, so if you have his current address, it should be that one.

  7. 8 Zach Miller 23/05/2009 at 2:39 am

    Boy, thanks for those photos, Dave. I didn’t realize how uncrushed the skeletons are. I’m actually surprised they haven’t been prepared any more than they already are. Seems like you could get a whole lot more of that Velociraptor out of the sand.

    But like you say, time and money.

  8. 9 David Hone 23/05/2009 at 9:35 am

    There’s also a stability issue. If you take more of that sand out, the bones might start to move position or fall apart. It’s common with some specimens to leave a fair bit of matrix in there to support the structure of the actual bones (as we did with Fodonyx for example). Again in this case we have other good Velociraptor material, so there’s no need or reason to risk this one when the interest is in the position, not the detials of the skeleton.

  9. 10 Mickey Mortimer 25/05/2009 at 5:28 pm

    The specimen is held in the Institute of Geology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences.

    And actually, Velociraptor was not well known in the 1970s. Besides the holotype (skull and finger), no other material was described until the 1980s. And even then, “description” just refers to Barsbold’s (1983) scattered comments and illustrations of IGM 100/25 in his Mongolian theropod paper and Osmolska’s (1982) brief comments on a metatarsus of ZPAL MgD-I/97 in the Hulsanpes description. It wasn’t until 1997 that more detailed descriptions emerged.

    • 11 Hans Sues 25/05/2009 at 10:09 pm

      Mickey is correct. Osborn’s original description is cursory (to put it nicely). and, as a young student, I published the first detailed description of the skull of the holotype of V. mongoliensis in 1977.

  10. 12 David Hone 25/05/2009 at 10:47 pm

    OK, looks like I was a bit out. My bad. Still, I’m not sure of the history of the specimen and one assumes they had a good reason for not doing a more detailed description at the time.

  11. 13 Jonathan Kane 26/05/2009 at 2:17 am

    Mike Keesey has suggested that I use some of these photographs in an anti-creationism project that he and I are working on. Would it be all right with you if we did that? I’d give you credit for them anywhere that I use them.

  12. 14 David Hone 26/05/2009 at 10:57 am

    I’ll send you an e-mail about this Jonathan.

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