The La Brea Tar Pits for the last century has brought a wealth of prehistoric history to the middle of bustilng Los Angeles, and now the landmark is planning on sharing more with the public for its 100th anniversary.
For years the tar pits have unearthed the bones of saber-toothed cats, prehistoric wolves, and mammoths, all of them dying after they became trapped in the sticky asphalt. The discoveries have been important for researchers as they learn more about the region and the animals that lived there tens of thousands of years ago.
“Earlier excavations really missed a great part of the story,” said John Harris, chief curator at the George C. Page Museum, which oversees the fossil collection. People “were only taking out bones they could see, but it’s the hidden bones that provide clues to the environment.”
In the last 100 years, close to 5.5 million bones have been discovered in the La Brea Tar Pits from more than 600 species of animals and plants.
There have been many changes at the La Brea Tar Pits since excavations began. In 1913, the predecessor to the National History Museum of Los Angeles County started a program to discover mammal bones.
The focus widened in 1969, when researchers decided to do more detailed excavations to find more types of animals and plants.
As new foundations are dug in the tar pits, more old blocks of tar are brought to the surface, giving the La Brea Tar Pits a seemingly endless source of fossils.
“I can’t think of any other site that is as rich,” said Sarah George, executive director of the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Researchers are now using the tar pits to uncover a larger view of life tens of thousands of years ago.
“For decades we collected and presented statue-like examples of the mega-fauna of the past,” Harris said. “Now, we’re attempting to preserve a whole prehistoric ecosystem and chronicle how it changed over time.”
Officials at the La Brea Tar Pits now plan to partner with the Page Museum to put more of these artifacts on display over the next five years.