IT might seem odd to have a bunch of really, really old tar pits smack in the centre of Los Angeles, but that’s La Brea Tar Pits for you. The pools of oily black tar were formed from seepage of crude oil and other natural substances for thousands of years.
The pits were often covered by dust and falling leaves, and unwitting animals would fall in. The tar would then harden and form asphalt, thus preserving said animals into fossils.
The batch of pools that are visible today were trapped below the earth’s surface until excavation was done in the early 1900s. Excavators found many fossilized bones of mammals, birds and plants in the tar, perfectly preserved thanks to the layering of protective tar.
All of the excavated materials are displayed at the nearby George C.Page Museum. More on that later though, let’s explore the park around it, Hancock Park.
The largest ‘pit’ in the area has a couple of life-sized models of extinct mastodons; one among many species found there. The pond looks sludgy and black, and occasionally methane gas formed from the tar pits bubbles up onto the surface, giving an illusion of boiling tar.
We saw some local wildlife, like this adorable grey squirrel!
It was unafraid of humans and we were able to get quite close to it for a picture.
A smaller tar pit. The tar is hardly visible as it is covered with dried leaves. Excavation is still being carried out until this day as there are still many unearthed specimens trapped within.
Fossils packed away in large crates.
Nicely maintained park with all sorts of trees, shrubs and flowers.
After walking around the park, we pop into the nearby George C.Page Museum for a visit. On the outside, it looks like any regular building, but visitors will be taken through an interesting journey to understand the history and formation of La Brea. There are hundreds of fossilized specimens on display.
A sabre-toothed cat fossil. The fossils are stained brown by the asphalt in which they are preserved. The oldest fossils found in the La Brea Tar Pits are a coyote (46,000 years) and wood (55,000 years). That’s longer than mankind’s oldest civilisation!
It’s not easy to get out of tar once you’ve fallen into it due to its extremely viscous consistency. To demonstrate this, the museum has a few containers with tar in them where visitors get to try their hand at pulling the bar up. Even with all my strength, I could barely get it to move – so the fate of the animals that have fallen in = certain death.
Dire wolf skulls, which were found in abundant quantities. They were smaller than modern day wolves but heavier built. In total, some 4,000 dire wolf remains were found in the pits.
A laboratory where they do research and clean up the found fossils. There are also storage rooms where every fragment and bone is cataloged and painstakingly put together. So much respect for researchers in this field. :)
Part of ‘Zed’s Skull’. Zed was, apparently, a woolly mammoth.
A tropical garden sits in the centre of the museum. Temperature is considerably warmer in here.
Overall I think it was an educational excursion to the Tar Pits, and a must-see when you’re in LA. There aren’t too many tar pits around the world, you know! :D
LA BREA TAR PITS
5801 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, United States
Entry price: $12.00 (Adults)
Phone: +1 323-934-7243