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What Los Angeles’ life was like between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago? La Brea Tar Pits Museum houses more than five million fossils excavated from the sticky asphalt. Come and meet L.A. original animals, landscape, and ecosystem.
A pinch of history
- More than 600 species have been discovered since 1905. And scientists are still excavating!
- Native Americans used asphalt to waterproof boats, houses, and kitchen utensils.
- The museum is standing on a Mexican land grant called Rancho La Brea
- In 1924, George Allan Hancock, the last owner, donated 23 acres to the County of Los Angeles for preservation
What is La Brea Tar Pits?
La Brea Tar Pits is a concentration of quarries in Hancock Park, Los Angeles. Natural asphalt trapped and preserved animals and plants between 11,000 to 50,000 years ago.
When you visit the Lake Pit, you may smell a “rotten egg” odor caused by hydrogen sulfide. Similarly, methane is producing bubbles on the lake.
Excavation in progress
Since 1905 over 5 million fossils from more than 600 species of animals and plants have been recovered at La Brea Pit!
Early on, the excavation process focused only on larger bones. The Rancho La Brea Project launched in 1969, introduced meticulous techniques to sample and reference smaller fossils like insects, shells, seeds, and pollen. Collecting and preserving all biological and geological evidence is crucial to understanding what life was like in North America between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago.
Today, you can visit and observe scientists working over Project 23 and Pit 91, the two active outdoor excavation sites.
Excavators will select a fossil deposit. Then they will record, clean, measure, take photos and notes for each fossil including their measurements, position, and orientation in the deposit.
Next steps: the direction of the fossil laboratory for cleaning and curation
The Fossil Lab
The paleontological laboratory clean, repair, and conserve fossils excavated. Watch scientists working meticulously cleaning and studying fossils.
The museum displays a multitude of fossils, mostly from extinct animals and plants. Among the incredible fossils diversity and conservation, I was impressed to discover Pygmy mammoths, camels, birds, and so much more.
Camels used to live in North America! As of today, 36 camels’ fossils have been found at La Brea Tar Pits. According to the bone structure, they had only one hump.
Asphalts protected birds ‘fragile bones, and over 100 different species have been uncovered.
The top 3 animals found are:
- Dire wolves (4,000 fossils)
- Saber-toothed cats (2,000 fossils)
There is an impressive wall including 404 Dire Wolf skulls. Their size and shape differences bring much information. Indeed, scientists use fossil comparisons, technology, and genetic to estimate animal evolution and population structure.
Mammoths, mastodons, and elephants are part of the proboscidean’s mammals group. Descendants of the first African proboscideans – the American mastodons, Columbian and pygmy mammoths – have been excavated at La Brea Tar Pits.
The American mastodon disappeared about 10,000 years ago. Smaller than mammoths, their diet was composed of twigs and leaves.
Pygmy mammoth lived on California’s Channel Island about 100,000 to 10,000 years ago. These smaller mammoths were about the size of large horses.
The Columbian mammoths lived between Canada and Central America about 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago. The grazer animal was 12 feet tall and weighted more than 17,000 pounds.
Article based on my visits in 2019
Ready to explore Los Angeles Ice Age?
*COVID-19 update as of January 2022*
- Please wear a mask and practice a physical distance of 6 feet between yourself and others.
- Please review safety protocols before visiting.
- Location: 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
- Hours: 9 am – 5 pm
- Admission: $15 per adult
- Duration: 2 hours
- Parking: paid on-site lot or street parking
- More information available at https://tarpits.org/
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