La Brea Tar Pit
Columbian mammoths, saber-toothed cats and mastodons once roamed the LA landscape in search of shelter and prey. Until 11,000 years ago the area that is now Hancock Park on the Miracle Mile was an ancient wilderness of exotic mammals and plants. Hundreds of these now-extinct species were well preserved in the cluster of tar pits.
Many small animals, birds and insects became immobilized in the thick, sludge-like asphalt or tar that seeps up from the ground. The viscous liquid is an excellent preservative and bones, teeth, shells, insect exoskeletons and even some plants seeds have been extracted from the pits.
There are more than 100 of these bubbling pools of tar spread across Hancock Park, and they are among the world’s richest sources of knowledge about life in the Ice Age. They are fenced off to prevent inquisitive visitors from suffering the same fate as the animals, but there are viewing stations nearby.
Scientists have been pulling bones out of the ground here for more than a century and many are on display at the Page Museum, a prehistoric treasure chest that provides a window into Pleistocene and Ice Age California.
The museum has more than a million fossils from more than 650 species, and exhibits include skeletons of mammoths, sloths, wolves and a saber-toothed cat. The museum is more than just a collection of bones. Visitors can watch paleontology as it happens. Excavations of the ground are ongoing and the museum’s Fishbowl Lab lets you watch scientists as they clean, identify, tag and put fossil pieces together.
The La Brea Tar Pits are located about seven miles (11 kilometers) west of downtown on Wilshire Boulevard. There is paid parking directly behind the museum on the corner of Sixth Street and Curson Avenue. The museum is open every day with the exception of major holidays.
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