CA -- Los Angeles -- Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits:
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LABREA_090719_038.JPG: Lake Pit Viewing Station:
The George C. Page Museum, opposite the Lake Pit, displays many assembled Ice Age skeletons from these tar pits. You are cordially invited to visit this branch of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and to learn the exciting story of the La Brea discoveries.
The lake fills a quarry where asphalt was mined during the nineteenth century. After the quarry was abandoned, rain and groundwater seepage soon filled the excavated area.
The surface oil slicks are composed of asphalt. This and the bubbles of natural gas (methane) escape from fissures below the lake.
Life-size fiberglass models of a Columbian mammoth family stand at the east end of the lake. The mother has become trapped; her mate and offspring watch hopelessly. There is a life-size model of an American mastodon near the west end of the lake.
For thousands of years, here at Rancho La Brea, asphalt has seeped to the earth's surface from an underlying oil field. These seeps became unique death traps for countless Ice Age mammals and birds, making Rancho La Brea the world's richest deposit of Ice Age fossils. Over 100 tons of fossil bones have been recovered.
LABREA_090719_105.JPG: Captain G. Allen Hancock
Donor of Hancock Park
to the people of
Los Angeles County
LABREA_090719_159.JPG: George C. Page
LABREA_090719_227.JPG: New fossil discoveries!
These two plaster jackets contain the first complete mammoth tusks found here at Rancho La Brea. They belong to the near-complete Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi) that is currently being prepared in the Page Museum lab.
LABREA_090719_257.JPG: This enclosure contains four excavations. Pits 3 and 4, at the east end of the enclosure, were over 30 feet in diameter and extended to depths of more than 25 feet. Pit 3 yielded over 500 fossil mammal skulls and a California juniper tree that has been dated at 14,000 years old. More than 1,000 fossil birds were obtained from Pit 4 together with other fossils dated between 15,000 to 35,000 years ago.
The fossils from Pits 61 and 67 on the west side of the enclosure are about 12,000 years old. Dire wires and saber-toothed cats were the commonest fossils from Pitt 51, but lions, deer, horses and ground sloths were also recovered. More than 270 skulls were recovered from Pit 67, which is noteworthy for the remains of bison, browsing ground sloths, and young camels.
These four excavations were conducted by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County from July 16, 1913 to June 21, 1915.
LABREA_090719_271.JPG: Bubble sequence. The methane is still coming through the asphalt.
LABREA_090719_299.JPG: Pit 91:
Rancho La Brea's Pit 91 excavation is an ongoing educational and scientific project. The fossils recovered during the summer are cleaned, repaired, identified, catalogued and stored at the George C. Page Museum. These fossils provide us with valuable information about the Ice Age, and about the animals and plants living in the Los Angeles area at that time.
The current excavation was started in 1969 with the purpose of recovering all the different kinds of fossils including microscopic ones (rodents, insects, waterfleas, diatoms, etc.). To date, the excavation has reached a depth of over 12 feet and has recovered more than 50,000 fossils.
Most of our information about the plants, mollusks, and insects from La Brea is based on specimens recovered from Pit 91. The fossils from this locality are between 25,000 and 33,000 years old.
LABREA_090719_307.JPG: The excavation of Pit 91 is on hiatus for at least 5 years while we work on Project 23!
Counts from past digs:
2007 -- 3388 specimens
2006 -- 2189 specimens
2005 -- 2826 specimens
2004 -- 2482 specimens
We dig using a grid system. Each grid is 3 feet x 3 feet x 6 inches deep
We use a ladder to get into the pit. When no one is working inside Pit 91, the ladder is pulled up and locked.
Fun Pit 91 Facts:
- Tar is not hot!
- We identify each fossil as we take it out of the ground.
- Currently the pit is at 15 feet deep
- We do not find bones in liquid asphalt
- The most common animal found is the dire wolf
- What smell?
- Yes, asphalt will stain your clothes!
- We use Gojo or mechanics' degreaser to clean our hands
- Although we find lots of turtle shell and bones, we have yet to find a turtle skull
- It has been estimated that there is between 5 to 8 more feet until the end of the deposit is reached.
No dinosaurs are found at the Tar Pits! Dinosaurs died 65 million yrs before the Tar Pits formed.
Be sure to visit the Page Museum!
All the fossil [sic] we excavate go into the Page Museum!
LABREA_090719_322.JPG: The colored flags at the bottom of Pit 91 are marking the following bones:
Red -- Harlan's ground sloth pelvis
Three species of ground sloth are found at Rancho La Brea. Harlan's ground sloth is the largest and most common of the three. They had thousands of dermal ossicles (pebble sized skin bones) embedded in their skin on the neck and shoulders. These may have functioned as protection against predators.
Blue -- Western horse radius
Two species of prehistoric horse are found at Rancho La Brea. The western horse is the larger of the two and is one of the more common large herbivores found here. Both species died out in North America approximately 11,000 years ago.
LABREA_090719_346.JPG: Project 23.
The ground below your feet contains one of the richest deposits of fossils from the last part of the Ice Age, approximately 40,000 to 10,000 years ago.
In 2006, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art began constructing an underground parking structure next to the park. This gave paleontologists at the Page Museum the opportunity to access areas that had been far below ground level. During the construction, sixteen new areas of fossil deposits were discovered. These were placed into twenty-three crates and moved to the spot in front of you. We are now excavating those new fossil deposits.
The information on the other panels will tell you how we do this and why it is so important.
Don't miss visiting the Page Museum in the northeast corner of the park, where you can watch other paleontologists working in the laboratory and learn more about life in Los Angeles during the last Ice Age.
Why is it called Project 23?
Under the guidance of the Page Museum paleontologists, twenty-three crates of asphaltic fossil deposits were cut and lifted out of the ground, then transferred to this area of the park. These crates range in size from 5 x 5 x 5 feet (weighing 3 tons) to 12 x 15 x 10 feet (weighing 56 tons).
What is in these crates?
We have already recovered fossils of ground slots, dire wolves, saber-toothed cats, horses, and bison. Other discoveries so far include birds, turtles, snails, mollusks, and tree trunks, along with insect, algae, and leaf mats -- all of which are expected to provide important new information about the ancient environment of Los Angeles.
How do we excavate fossils from the crates?
Excavators use small hand tools such as dental picks, trowels, and chisels to uncover fossils buried in a mixture of clay, sand and asphalt. The position of each fossil within the deposit is measured before it is removed and taken to the Page Museum for cleaning. This project started in July 2008 and will take at least five years to complete.
How is working in these crates different than working in a tar pit?
It is cleaner, more comfortable, and less smelly to extract fossils from the crates than from the bottom of Pit 91, where water and asphalt are constantly seeping up and flooding the excavation. However, because the crates have been standing above ground for some time now, the asphalt has hardened and it is sometimes more difficult to extract the fossils. This excavation process makes the project unique.
What is the significance of this discovery?
Early excavations at the tarpits collected only the larger fossil bones. Later, it was discovered that the smaller fossils provided more environmental information, so we have collected small fossils from Pit 91 during the past forty years. The sixteen new deposits offer an opportunity to retrieve small fossils of different geologic ages than those found in Pit 91.
The fossils recovered from these deposits have the potential to double the size of the Page Museum's collection, which currently holds 3.5 million specimens! These finds may provide decades of new research on such subjects as global warming, geological change, biodiversity, and life cycles.
How were the fossils formed?
An unlucky herbivore (plant eater) would have stumbled into an asphalt seep and become stuck like a fly on flypaper. The animal would have eventually died of starvation or the exhaustion of struggling to break free. Several carnivores (meat eaters) might have approached the scene, thinking they had found an easy meal, and soon they too would become stuck. Once these animals died and their bones settled, new liquid asphalt would have seeped up over them. This process was repeated over thousands of years, forming cone-shaped layers of fossil deposits below the ground.
What else have we found?
In addition to the fossils in these twenty-three crates, we found a well-preserved male Columbian mammoth, about 80 percent complete, with intact ten-foot-long tusks, in a nearby ancient riverbed. This si the most complete individual mammoth found in this area. Paleontologists at the Page Museum have nicknamed the mammoth Zed.
Why don't they find dinosaurs at the La Brea Tar Pits?
Los Angeles was under the ocean until about 100,000 years ago. Fossils from the tar pits are all less than 50,000 years old. Because the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, they were extinct long before these asphalt seeps started to trap animals and plants.
LABREA_090719_381.JPG: Pit 9.
At this site, a great fissure-like vent filled with fossil bearing asphalt was excavated to a depth of 35 feet. The enclosed area represents only a small portion of the original excavation. The fossils included short faced bears, American lions, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, camels, horses, and ground sloths. Over 10,000 fossils have been recovered from this site. The bones were associated with fossil wood, some of which has been dated at more than 40,000 years old.
Pit 9 is the main Rancho La Brea locality to yield Columbian mammoths. Remains of about thirty individuals were excavated and these ranged in age from newly born infants to elderly adults.
Pit 9 was excavated by the Los Angeles County Museum from November 18, 1913 to September 9, 1914.
LABREA_090719_392.JPG: P23 Facts: Boxes open for excavation: 1 and 7B.
1. Zed did not come out of one of these boxes. He is being worked on in the Page Museum laboratory.
2. We work 7 days a week with 5 paid staff and a number of volunteers.
3. Each box is unique; each box takes a different amount of time to complete.
4. Zed is a Columbian Mammoth, not a Wooly Mammoth.
Want to volunteer?
Want to stay in the loop? Check out our blog.
Q. Have you found anything today?
Recent fossil finds include:
- Bison vertebrae
- Saber-toothed cat tibia
- Rattlesnake vertebrae
- A partially complete bird skeleton
- LOTS of millepedes!
- Layers of oak leaves.
- Dire wolf rib and vertebrae
How the boxes got to Rancho La Brea...
(1) Fossils were discovered during the LACMA parking garage construction ("Wowsers fossils")
(2) First, the location of the fossil deposit is defined.
(3) Then trenches are dug around the sides.
(4) The bottom is the hard part. Workers must dig on their bellies and slide boards underneath.
(5) Boxes are then craned out.
(6) 23 boxes total "Project 23"
LABREA_090719_463.JPG: Flat-headed peccary
LABREA_090719_469.JPG: Extinct California Condor
LABREA_090719_475.JPG: California Saber-Tooth
LABREA_090719_489.JPG: California Saber-Tooth
LABREA_090719_498.JPG: Imperial Mammoth tooth and molar
LABREA_090719_510.JPG: Wooly Mammoth tusk
LABREA_090719_537.JPG: Dire wolf.
Rancho La Brea is widely known for its incredibly rich fossil deposits. These 404 Dire Wolf skulls represent only a portion of more than 1600 wolves whose remains have been found here. It is thought that packs of Dire Wolves attempted to feed on animals trapped in the asphalt and became mired themselves. You can see that they are not all exactly alike in either size or shape. Research on these minor differences is sure to yield information about wolf evolution and population structure.
Patricia and Allan Herbert
LABREA_090719_567.JPG: Zed's left tusk
LABREA_090719_575.JPG: Zed's lower jaw
LABREA_090719_583.JPG: Fishbowl Fun Facts:
There are two staff members, and over 50 volunteers that work in the fishbowl.
- Our volunteers range in age from 17 to 87!
- Our fossils range in age from 10,000 to 40,000 years old.
- Yes, the fossils are real.
- No, we can't hear you. The glass is soundproof. Please don't knock or tap on the glass.
- Look around for tools you know! Elmer's Glue. Toothbrushes. Cotton swabs. Pipe cleaners. Pickle jars. Paintbrushes.
- Zed = "Z" = first letter of "zero"
This month's projects:
- Zed (Columbian Mammoth)
-- left femur
-- left tusk
-- right humerus
-- vert column
- Fluffy (American Lion)
-- Microfossil sorting
- Conan (Saber-tooth Cat)
-- Microfossil sorting
- Project 23 fossils:
-- Juvenile Saber-tooth
-- Giant Ground Sloth
-- Dire Wolf
AAA "Gem": AAA considers this location to be a "must see" point of interest. To see pictures of other areas that AAA considers to be Gems, click here.
Wikipedia Description: La Brea Tar Pits
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The La Brea Tar Pits (or Rancho La Brea Tar Pits) are a famous cluster of tar pits located in Hancock Park in the urban heart of Los Angeles, California, United States. Asphalt or tar (which in Spanish is la brea, see below) has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. The tar is often covered with water, which attracts wildlife. Over the centuries, the bones of animals that died in the pits sank into the tar and were preserved. The George C. Page museum is dedicated to researching the tar pits and displaying specimens from them.
Location and formation of the pits:
The La Brea Tar Pits and Hancock Park are situated within urban Los Angeles, California, near the Miracle Mile district.
Tar pits are composed of heavy oil fractions called asphalt, which came out of the earth as oil. In Hancock Park, asphalt seeps up from underground. The asphalt is derived from petroleum deposits that originate from underground locations throughout the Los Angeles Basin. The asphalt reaches the surface at several locations in the park, forming pools.
This seepage has been happening for tens of thousands of years. From time to time, the asphalt would form a pool deep enough to trap animals, and the surface would be covered with layers of water, dust, and leaves. Animals would wander in, become trapped and eventually die. Predators would also enter to eat the trapped animals, and themselves become stuck.
As the bones of the dead animals sink into the asphalt, it soaks into them, turning them a dark-brown or black color. Lighter fractions of petroleum evaporate from the asphalt, leaving a more solid substance, which holds the bones. Apart from the dramatic fossils of large mammals, the asphalt also preserves very small "microfossils," wood and plant remnants, insects, dust, and even pollen grains.
Radiometric dating of preserved wood and bones has given an age of 38,000 years for the oldest known material from the La Brea seeps, and they are still ensnaring organisms today.
The Portola Expedition, a group of Mexican explorers led by Gaspar de Portola, made the first written record of the tar pits in 1769. Father Juan Crespi wrote, "While crossing the basin the scouts reported having seen some geysers of tar issuing from the ground like springs; it boils up molten, and the water runs to one side and the tar to the other. The scouts reported that they had come across many of these springs and had seen large swamps of them, enough, they said, to caulk many vessels. We were not so lucky ourselves as to see these tar geysers, much though we wished it; as it was some distance out of the way we were to take, the Governor [Portola] did not want us to go past them. We christened them Los Bolcanes de Brea [the Tar Geysers]."
Work on excavating the bones started[clarification needed] in the early 20th century. In the 1940s and 1950s, there was great public excitement over the dramatic mammal bones recovered. (The organic remains could be called "fossils" because they were dug up, but they are not mineralized as true fossils are.)
By the 2000s, attention had shifted to smaller specimens such as preserved insects and plant parts, including microfossils such as pollen grains. These remains help to define a picture of the Los Angeles basin during the glacial age, when the climate was cooler and moister.
Source of methane discovered:
Methane gas also seeps up, causing bubbles that make the asphalt appear to boil. Asphalt and methane also appear under surrounding buildings, requiring special operations to remove, lest it weaken the buildings' foundations. In 2007, researchers from UC Riverside discovered that the bubbles are caused by hardy forms of bacteria embedded in the natural asphalt. The bacteria are eating away at the petroleum and releasing methane. Of the bacteria sampled so far, about 200 to 300 are previously unknown species.
George C. Page Museum:
The George C. Page Museum, part of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, is built next to the tar pits in Hancock Park on Wilshire Boulevard. It tells the story of the tar pits and presents specimens from them. Visitors can walk around the park and see the tar pits. On the grounds of the park are life-sized models of prehistoric animals in or near the tar pits. Of more than a hundred pits, only Pit 91 is still regularly worked on. The museum encloses the pit and tourists can watch as it is excavated for two months each summer. The work is done by volunteers under the watchful eyes of paleontologists.
La Brea is a famous and accessible paleontological site because it is in a large city, with dramatic exhibits well presented at the Page Museum.
Excavation of newly uncovered pits announced in 2009:
On February 18, 2009, George C. Page Museum formally announced the 2006 discovery of 16 fossil deposits which had been removed from the ground during the construction of an underground parking garage for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art next to the tar pits. Among the finds are bones of a saber-toothed cat, six dire wolves, bison, horses, a giant ground sloth, turtles, snails, clams, millipedes, fish, gophers, and an American lion. Also discovered is a near-intact mammoth skeleton, nicknamed Zed; the only pieces missing are a rear leg, a vertebra and the top of his skull, which was shaved off by construction equipment while preparing to build the parking structure.
These fossils were packaged at the construction site and removed to the museum so that construction could continue. Over twenty large accumulations of tar and specimens were taken to be separated. As work for the public transit Red Line is extended, museum researchers know that more tar pits will be uncovered, for example near the intersection of Wilshire and Curson.
La Brea animals and plants:
Among the prehistoric species associated with the La Brea Tar Pits are mammoths, dire wolves, short-faced bears, ground sloths, and the state fossil of California, the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon californicus. Only one human has ever been found, a partial skeleton of a woman, dated at approximately 9,000 BP (Enchanged Learning: La Brea). Much of the early work in identifying species was performed in the early 20th century by John C. Merriam of the University of California.
The park is known for producing myriad mammal fossils dating from the last ice age. While mammal fossils occupy significant interest, other fossils, including fossilized insects and plants, and even pollen grains, are also valued. These fossils help define a picture of what is thought to be a cooler, moister climate present in the Los Angeles basin during the glacial age. Among these fossils are microfossils. Microfossils are retrieved from a matrix of asphalt and sandy clay by washing with a solvent to remove the petroleum, then picking through the remains under a high-powered lens.
Tar pits around the world are unusual in accumulating more predators than prey. The reason for this is unknown, but one theory is that a large prey animal (say, a mastodon) would die or become stuck in a tar pit, attracting predators across long distances. This predator trap would catch predators along with their prey. Another theory is that dire wolves and their prey may have been trapped during a hunt. Since modern wolves hunt in packs, each prey animal could take several wolves with it. ...
Brea is Spanish for "tar," making "The La Brea Tar Pits" a redundant expression meaning "The The Tar Tar Pits" (an example of pleonasm). The "tar" pits were used as a source of asphalt (for use as low-grade fuel and for waterproofing and insulation) by early settlers of the Los Angeles area. They mistook the bones in the pits for the remains of pronghorn antelope or cattle that had become mired.
Rancho La Brea is the most famous, but there are two other asphalt pits with fossils in southern California: in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County and McKittrick, in Kern County. There are other fossil-bearing asphalt deposits in Texas, Peru, Trinidad, Iran, Russia, and Poland.
For other rich deposits, fossilized where they occurred, see Lagerstätten.
La Brea in popular culture:
* In the 1990 disaster film Earthquake, an elephant gradually sinks into the pits.
* In the 1997 disaster film Volcano, a volcano grows out of the largest pool of tar (after the mammoth in the diorama sinks into it), spewing a river of hot lava down Wilshire Boulevard.
* The pits were also featured in the final scene of the movie Miracle Mile, as well as several other movies representative of Los Angeles.
* In Steven Spielberg's 1979 film 1941, Captain Wild Bill Kelso, played by John Belushi, shoots down a plane that he mistook for a Japanese plane into the La Brea Tar Pits.
* In Last Action Hero, the character "Jack Slater" (Arnold Schwarzenegger) falls into the tar pits but quickly swims out and easily wipes himself clean, which the film's protagonist points out as an action-film cliché. An incorrect dinosaur model is shown in the pit, as a mocking reference to the same year's Jurassic Park.
* The tar pits are also featured in a key scene in "Alan Smithee's" Burn Hollywood Burn.
* The episode "That's Lobstertainment!" of Futurama depicts an animated version of the tar pits. Fry notices a caveman skeleton with club and wearing an animal skin, causing him to exclaim, "I don't believe it, Sylvester Stallone!"
* In The Two Jakes a scene takes place at the La Brea Tar Pits.
* Hidden underneath the museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is the secret base of the heroes of Brian K. Vaughan's comic book Runaways.
* In My Girl 2, a scene occurs in which Nick pretends to throw Vada's very special ring into the tar pits.
* In The Simpsons episode "Bart Gets an Elephant", they visit a tar pit attraction modeled on the La Brea Tar Pits.
* In the novel Mammoth by John Varley, a large part of the plot occurs in and around La Brea in the past and present.
* In the novel City Of Bones by Michael Connelly The tar pits are mentioned in connection with Los Angeles oldest known murder victim who was murdered 9000 years ago.
* In the 1948 Warner Brothers cartoon "My Bunny Lies Over the Sea," Bugs Bunny is tunneling to Los Angeles intending to visit the La Brea Tar Pits and accidentally winds up in Scotland. That sets up this heavily-brogued line by the kilted Scotsman that Bugs meets: "Therrre's no La Brrrea Tarrr Pits in Scotland!"
* In an episode of Kong: The Animated Series, Kong and his human friends go to Los Angeles where they fight the series villain Ramone De La Porta in front of the La Brea Tar Pits. The villains use the (non-existent) dinosaur bones in the pits to create monsters which Kong fights.
* In the ABC sitcom Dinosaurs, which takes place in prehistoric times, there is a reference to the pits in Bob LaBrea, an ancient dinosaur chief, for which the main characters' school, LaBrea High School, is named, despite the fact that no dinosaur bones have been found in the Tar Pits.
* The Mighty Max series features an episode entitled Tar Wars which is centered around the tar pits.
* The Flintstones regularly make reference to the La Brea Tar Pits though no dinosaur or hominid bones (beyond those of a woman) have been found.
* In the 1992 film Encino Man, the museum scenes were all shot at the George C. Page Museum, located in the tar pits, and all the lab workers were current museum employees or volunteers. The Diorama that Brendan Frazier climbs into was built inside the museum's atrium.
* In the 1990 film Bad Influence, a scene occurs in which James Spader's & Christian Clemenson's characters attempt to cover up a murder committed by Rob Lowe's character by placing a deceased woman in the La Brea Tar Pits. Her body is pulled from the pit the following day with emergency rescue personnel hovering over the actual pit.
* The Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode PDA contains a parody of the La Brea Tar Pits which puts its location as Trenton, New Jersey.
* The main protagonist of Robert Masello's horror novel, "The Bestiary" works on a dig at the La Brea Tar Pits. Though not integral to the story, the discovery of the 9000-year old fossilized remains of a couple forms one of the subplots of the book.
* The site is frequently mentioned in the novelty song Pico and Sepulveda.
* In the 1990s PBS game show Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Top Grunge stole the La Brea Tar Pits.
* In the Teen novel POSEUR, 2008, Janie and Evan discuss the tar pits, mentioning that, on a field trip when they were younger, they were told by a very strange tour guide that the mammoth in the diorama was alive, just staying very still so that he would not sink deeper into the tar.
* In Moonlight (TV series), setting LA, Episode 13, Fated to Pretend, Josef mentioned that the only person he had killed that week was in the LA Tar Pits.
* In the 2007 movie The Hammer, the main character Jerry Ferro (Adam Carolla) goes on a date to the tar pits and Page Museum with Lindsay Pratt, played by Heather Juergensen who actually lives near the park in real life.
* In the fourth novel of Science Fiction author Philip Jose Farmer's World of Tiers series, the hero, Kickaha is chased past the LA Tar Pits.
* In the song The Smithsonian Institute Blues (or The Big Dig) on the album Lick My Decals Off, Baby by Captain Beefheart. Line: "The way it's goin' at the La Brea tar pits, you know you just can't lose. The new dinosaurs walkin' in the old one's shoes."
* The La brea Tar Pit is alive and sitting as Tar Pit in Zoo Tycoon: Dinosaur Digs.
* Rapper DOOM is quoted as saying "Chucked it in the old tar pit off La Brea" in his song "That's That" from his 2009 album, Born Like This.
* In the Future Cop: LAPD video game, La Brea Tar Pits serves as the setting for the game's third mission, on which you must rescue the mayor's daughter who was kidnapped by a cult of mutants for a sacrifice.
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