Los Angeles Ice Age

3 minutes read

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.

Did you know?

Asphalt is the lowest grade of crude oil.

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.

Did you know?

The matrix designs the sediment. It includes smaller fossils, and microfossils (less than 1 cm fossils).

Today, you can visit and observe scientists working over Project 23 and Pit 91, the two active outdoor excavation sites.

Project 23 – Fossil crate 14

Did you know?

In 2006, 16 fossil deposits were discovered during the construction of LACMA’s parking.

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.

Pit 13

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 Fossil Lab
Cleaning the fossils

Did you know?

100,000 years ago, Los Angeles was covered by the Pacific Ocean.

The museum

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)
  • Coyotes
California Saber-Tooth

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.

404 Dire Wolf skulls

Did you know?

Dire Wolves were trapped trying to feed on animals in the asphalt.

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 proboscidean’s mammals group

Did you know?

The proboscidean’s mammals group includes more than 150 species.

The American mastodon disappeared about 10,000 years ago. Smaller than mammoths, their diet was composed of twigs and leaves.

The American mastodon

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.

Pygmy mammoth

Did you know?

Pygmy mammoth eats 50 pounds of food per day versus 500 pounds for the Columbian mammoth.
Two adults mammoths lower jaw: Columbia mammoth on the left and pygmy mammoth on the right

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.

The Columbian mammoth
The Columbian mammoth

Article based on my visits in 2019

Ready to explore Los Angeles Ice Age?

*COVID-19 update as of January 2022*

  1. Please wear a mask and practice a physical distance of 6 feet between yourself and others.
  2. 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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