What Is La Brea Tar Pits

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Exploring the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles

The city’s has become recognized as the center of the and the Los Angeles area is also associated with being the center of the . The city is home to major film studios as well as major record labels. Los Angeles plays host to the annual , the , the as well as many other entertainment industry awards shows. Los Angeles is the site of the which is the oldest film school in the United States.

The performing arts play a major role in Los Angeles’s cultural identity. According to the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, “there are more than 1,100 annual theatrical productions and 21 openings every week.” The is “one of the three largest performing arts centers in the nation”, with more than 1.3 million visitors per year. The , centerpiece of the Music Center, is home to the prestigious . Notable organizations such as , the , and the are also resident companies of the Music Center. Talent is locally cultivated at premier institutions such as the and the .

La Brea Tar Pits Facts

  • The La Brea Tar Pits ranks as an extraordinary and unique geological feature. Incredible as it may sound, they lie within a major metropolitan area in the United States.
  • The ancient Native American tribes indigenous to the area knew these well. The Chumash and Tongva tribes used the naturally occurring tar to seal their canoes.
  • Over time, countless animals fell prey to the La Brea Tar Pits. Humans subsequently excavated many of those remains, along with preserved specimens of numerous plants and insects. This incredible site, therefore, provides an unparalleled sample of prehistoric life.
  • The oldest remains thus far excavated here date back more than 38,000 years. This location indeed serves as a naturally occurring time capsule.

Hancock Park: Tar Pits And A Pleistocene Garden

Not to be confused with the residential neighborhood of the same name, this Hancock Park is a city park and technically the land that both La Brea Tar Pits and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, AKA the LACMA, sit on.

The park is a nice place to walk through before or after your Page Museum visit.

It has everything youd ask for in a public park: free art, drinking fountains, picnic tables, restrooms, vending machines, and large grassy fields for activities. But what really makes it interesting is the several excavation sites that you can admire. Dont worry: The pits are fenced off, so what happened to the dire wolves wont happen to you or your guests.

Insider tip: Theres another prehistoric connection here. You can wander through a Pleistocene Garden in the Hancock Park, featuring native plants that grew in the Los Angeles Basin during the Ice Age, from around 10,000 and 40,000 years ago. The plants match the time period of the fossils scientists found in the tar pits, making this a nice addition to your trip to the museum.

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How Many Fossils Have Been Removed From La Brea Tar Pits

Since 1906, more than one million bones have been recovered, representing over 231 species of vertebrates. In addition, 159 species of plants and 234 species of invertebrates have been identified. It is estimated that the collections at La Brea Tar Pits contain about three million items. When completed, Project 23our current excavationmay double this number.

Paleobiota Of The La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, CA

A list of prehistoric and extinct species whose fossils have been found in the La Brea Tar Pits, located in present-day Hancock Park, a city park on the Miracle Mile section of the Mid-Wilshire district in Los Angeles, California.

Some of the tar pit’s fossils are displayed in the adjacent George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries in the park. They are primarily from Pleistocene predator species. Daggers in the list denote extinct species.

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La Brea Tar Pit Parking

Parking in LA is always an issue, so La Brea Tar Pit has its own dedicated parking area that cost $15 per car.

This is a little steep, so we parked on the street nearby, but you have to be aware of the parking restrictions because, even if parking at a meter, there are hours where you will be ticketed and towed.

Dont just park and assume its fine make sure youve read the signs!

What Digging Up The Past Tells Us

For over a century, researchers at La Brea Tar Pits have unearthed and studied the remains of millions of plants and animals. The resulting collection of fossils, from the gigantic mammoths to small micro fossils of insects and tiny plants, is the worlds most complete record of what life was like at the end of the Ice Age – between about 50,000 and 10,000 years ago – a time both foreign and familiar to our own.

Experience for yourself how life from the past became trapped in tar, how scientists are digging it up today and working on these fossils right before your eyes, and what their discoveries tell us about the past and climate change.

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Natural California Oil Seeps Created Asphalt Pools Not Tar That Trapped Ice Age Animals

The sticky black pools that attract tourists between Beverly Hills and downtown Los Angeles are actually natural asphalt, also known as bitumen. Although the repetitive tar pits name has stuck, the seeps are part of Americas oil history.

The La Brea site, discovered by a Spanish expedition on August 3, 1769, originated from naturally produced California oil seeps found onshore and offshore.

Only A Few Inches Deep

The Geologic Oddity in California La Brea Tar Pits

Smilodon californicus and Canis dirus fight over a Mammuthus columbi carcass in the La Brea Tar Pits. Frontpiece illustration by Robert Bruce Horsfall from A History of Land Mammals in the Western Hemisphere, by William Berryman Scott, New York, MacMillan Publishing Company, 1913, redone at Wikimedia Commons.

Our common imaginations have pictured a hellish deep pool of black tar into which terrified trapped animals slowly sank until they disappeared from sight. The iconic display, alongside Wilshire Boulevard, of a distressed mammoth sinking into a noxious lake in front of its family helps to cement that picture for us. In reality, the pools of asphalt that seeped to the surface were, at most, only a few inches deep. These pools appeared at random locations and likely only when temperatures were hot enough to liquify the asphalt. Yet, even as little as an inch and a half of asphalt could possibly trap a large animal. Scientists believe that animals would only occasionally find themselves stuck in the goo to the point that they were unable to free themselves. Yet, over a period of 40,000 years, even just those occasionally unfortunate animals trapped by asphalt left an enormous number of fossilized bones.

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The History Of The Tar Pits

Fossil fuels were used by human populations long before the Industrial Revolution, and that includes the asphalt found in the La Brea Tar Pits. For example, Native American tribes used asphalt from the pits to waterproof everything from canoes to baskets.

When the Spanish later occupied the area, they used the land for cattle ranching. It was eventually sold to the Hancock family in 1870, and they drilled for oil. A few studies and small-scale excavations followed, but it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that things really started heating up. In 1913, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County was granted access to the lands, and it initiated an intense two-year investigation that uncovered a large portion of the specimens in the collection today. Ninety-six pits were dug during the course of those excavations, but the working conditions were unsafe and the efforts were haphazard. For example, only bones belonging to larger animals received much attention, while smaller fossils, like those of plants and invertebrates, were often overlooked.

The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is part of a trio of institutions that also includes the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the William S. Hart Park and Museum. The Page Museum is located in Hancock Park, which is named for George Allan Hancock, the man who donated the 23 acres the park resides on.

No Dinosaur Fossilsice Age Fossils

Mural portraying Ice Age Los Angeles at La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

Fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits only date from the very end of the Pleistocene epoch , from 11,700 to 50,000 years ago, which still falls within our current Cenozoic Era. The era of the dinosaurs was significantly earlier, during the Mesozoic Era, from 66 million to 245 million years ago. There are no dinosaur-era fossils found at the La Brea Tar Pits, only those from the late Ice Ages. You may still call them prehistoric, though.

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La Brea Tar Pits Selected As One Of The First 100 Geological Heritage Sites

The organization said the 100 sites “represent key places with geological elements and-or processes of international scientific relevance.”

MIRACLE MILE, LOS ANGELES — The La Brea Tar Pits has been selected as one of the first 100 geological heritage sites by the International Union of Geological Sciences.

IUGS is one of the world’s largest scientific organizations representing more than one million geoscientists.

The formal announcement will be made at its meeting next month in Spain.

The organization said the 100 sites “represent key places with geological elements and-or processes of international scientific relevance.”

La Brea Tar Pits is reportedly the richest Pleistocene fossil site on Earth, according to IUGS.

“Beloved by Angelenos and known for capturing the imagination and inspiring pop culture from the current La Brea TV series to the Ice Age animated films, La Brea Tar Pits is a one-of-a-kind site for scientific research into the past with important data for understanding climate change in our own time,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, President and Director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, which oversees La Brea Tar Pits. “This acknowledgement from the international scientific community is recognition of La Brea’s gifts to science and the hard work of paleontologists, preparators, and volunteers during its more than 100 years of research and excavation.”

West Coast Asphalt Pits

La Brea Tar Pits

Native Americans had used the substance for centuries to waterproof baskets and caulk canoes when, in 1828, Antonio de Rocha established Rancho La Brea via a land grant by the Mexican government.

Although commonly called the tar pits, the thick liquid that bubbles out of the ground at Rancho La Brea is actually asphalt not tar. Tar is a by-product made by the distillation of woody materials, such as coal or peat, while asphalt is a naturally formed substance comprised of hydrocarbon molecules.

While drilling for oil and mining for asphalt, the Hancock family discovered the scientific value of Rancho La Brea fossils.

After the American Civil War, Captain George Allan Hancock inherited 4,400 acres of land from the original Mexican land grant. The Hancock family owned and operated a refinery at Rancho La Brea between 1870 and 1890, commercially mining and exporting asphalt to local markets.

Research has been conducted at Rancho La Brea since the early 1900s and now continues at the Page Museum. A scientific publication first recorded the fossils in 1875. Professor William Denton ventured to the pits to evaluate oil prospects and noted the fossilized remains of animals.

Although Denton wrote about his discovery, it took several decades and another geologist interested in oil prospects, William W. Orcutt, to excavate and collect a substantial fossil collection including the only complete skull of a saber-tooth tiger in the world.


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Things You Should Know About The La Brea Tar Pits

Display of trapped mammoth at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

Los Angeles County features a number of truly amazing museums, but the La Brea Tar Pits and George C. Page Museum exhibits are extraordinarily unique. The La Brea Tar Pits are world famous and are the only registered National Natural Landmark in Los Angeles County . Almost every Angeleno knows about the La Brea Tar Pits, as do many non-Angelenos. The story of this unusual natural feature has stirred scientific interest and imagination for more than a century. In fact, the tar pits were featured in the only fictional film made about Los Angeles of 10,000 years ago NBCs La Brea. The 2021 science-fiction television series tells the story of Angelenos falling through a giant sinkhole near the La Brea Tar Pits , only to find themselves in prehistoric Los Angeles. We have a lot of questions about that, but we digress.

Carnivores 9 Herbivores 1

Reconstructed sabre-tooth cat fossil skeleton on display at La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

The ratio of carnivores to herbivores found in the La Brea Tar Pits is nine to one. Scientists theorize that trapped herbivores attracted lots of carnivores, even from far away. The carnivores, finding a animal trapped by asphalt and a potential easy meal, also put themselves at risk of becoming trapped. Since the asphalt was not deep, most trapped animals would have likely appeared largely exposed to investigating carnivores. Adding to this, according to research published in 2013, some trapped animals were believed to have lingered alive in the asphalt for as long as 17 to 20 weeks, eventually dying of dehydration, exhaustion, or wounds inflicted by predators and scavengers.

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How Did The Animals Become Trapped

Asphalt is very sticky, particularly when it is warm. Small mammals, birds, and insects inadvertently coming into contact with it would be immobilized as if trapped like flies on flypaper. The feet and legs of heavier animals might sink a few inches below the surface. Depending on the time of day or year, strong and healthy animals might have managed to escape, but others would have been held fast until they died of exhaustion, or fell prey to passing predators. A single, mired large herbivore might attract the attention of a dozen predatory birds and mammals, some of which would in turn become trapped and provide more food for other carnivores.

Inside The Museum At La Brea Tar Pits

Tar Continues To Ooze Up On Streets Near La Brea Tar Pits

What lies beneath the surface at the world famous La Brea Tar Pits? Step inside the museum to see massive ground sloths, towering mammoths, and snarling saber-toothed catssome of the most spectacular fossils ever found at the Tar Pits. Watch scientists prepare specimens in the Fossil Lab, and then see these incredible fossils on display in the surrounding galleries.

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Both Mammoths And Mastodons

Mammoth and mastodon fossils at La Brea Tar Pits Museum and Pit 9. Los Angeles Almanac Photos.

The La Brea Tar Pits are one of the few sites in North America where both Mammoth and Mastodon fossils have been found in the same site. Mastodons were an older species, smaller in size, with shorter and straighter tusks, pointed teeth, and flatter heads. They were believed to dine on crushed leaves, twigs and branches. The larger mammoths were grazers, like modern elephants, with longer and more curved tusks, flat teeth, and a more “domed” head. Most fossils of these two species were found in Pit 9 . The most recent find was in 2006 when a near complete skeleton of an adult mammoth was discovered just next door at a construction project for the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art underground garage. The mammoth was named “Zed.”

What Are The Tar Pits

The Tar Pits have fascinated scientists and visitors for over a century, and today, this area is the only actively excavated Ice Age fossil site found in an urban location in the world! Over the last 50,000 years, Ice Age animals, plants, and insects were trapped in sticky asphalt, which preserved them for us to find today. More than 100 excavations have been made at the Tar Pits since the early 1900s, and most of the fossils discovered here are housed in the museum at La Brea Tar Pits, at the center of the Tar Pits! The discoveries range in size from huge, extinct mammoths and sloths to “microfossils,” or tiny remains of plants and animals that give us clues about how ancient ecosystems and climates changed.

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How Many Pits Are There

Over 100 fossil quarries, commonly called “pits,” have been excavated since the turn of the 20th century. The term “pit” was applied to excavations made by the Los Angeles County Museum between July 1913 and September 1915. More than fifty of these excavations were completely unproductive and only about a dozen yielded prolific fossil remains. Five fenced areas scattered throughout Hancock Park include the Lake Pit and Pits 3, 4, 9, 10, 13, 61, 67, and 91.

How Deep Are The La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits

The La Brea Tar Pits are a famous Los Angeles destination. Now that the site has become the setting for a new show on NBC, you might be wondering how deep the La Brea Tar Pits are, and the answer will surprise you.

If youre not familiar with the new NBC series La Brea, the essence of the plot is that a massive sinkhole opens up in Los Angeles and swallows up men, women and children. Families and friends are ripped apart and those who end up on the other side of the tar pits find themselves in a whole new world.

Though the story is fascinating, its also a clear work of fiction. The La Brea Tar Pits arent very deep at all, only a few inches at most, yet they yield great fossil treasures and still present danger to anything that gets stuck in them.

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