Weird and Dead Stuff

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at the

(Rancho La Brea) LA BREA TAR PITS

Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, California

This museum houses the Earth's richest and most important Ice Age fossil collection.  For thousands of years, 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.  More than 30 complete skeletons of fossil mammals & birds are on display

NO DINOSAURS were found at the Tar Pits (dinosaurs lived between 65 and 220 million years ago).  The prehistoric mammals found here - Mammoths, ground sloths, saber toothed cats and dire wolves - became trapped in the asphalt seeps between 11,000 and 40,000 years ago.  This museum is small enough to absorb within an afternoon, substantive enough to learn plenty.  A pleasant experience.  Photos of saber toothed cat statutes, and high relief front show these animals caught in the tar pit, being preyed upon by wildcats who themselves get mired.

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The lake in front of the museum fills a quarry where asphalt was mined during the 19th 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 methane gas escape from fissures below the lake.

Life-sized 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 helplessly.  There is a life-sized model of an American mastodon near the west end of the lake.

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Photograph of early scientists that recovered over a million fossils from Rancho La Brea between 1906 and 1915.  They took only the largest bones.  What was left was a wealth of small fossils, seeds, snails, insects and pollen.  This re-excavation started June 13, 1969 (Asphalt Friday)

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Block of bones from Pit 81

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Mixed jaws in asphalt including saber-toothed cat jaw, an example of what scientists have to work with at the tar pits

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Sometime between 5-14 thousand years ago, all these and many other mammals and birds in North & South America became extinct.  It is believed to be the climate change at the close of the Ice Age, and hunting by man that contributed to this.

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A guitar musician in the plaza plays even while it drizzles.

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Visitors can try to pull on a pole stuck in the same tar, to see how difficult it is for a trapped animal to pull its leg from the tar.  The suction is incredible.

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Harlan's Ground sloth (Glossotherium harlani) about 6 feet tall

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Antique Bison skeleton

(Bison Antiquus)

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SKULLS of California Saber-tooth (Smilodon californicus), 

Extinct California Condor (Gymnogyps amplus), 

Mountain lion (Felis concolor),

Flat-headed Peccary (Platygomus); 

Coyote (canis latrans), 

Badger (taxidea taxus), 

Grey fox (Urocyon cineroargenteus), 

Striped skunk (Memphitis memphitis, 

Gopher (thomomys), 

lizard & snake bones, 

Spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius), and 

Deer mouse (Peromyscus)

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SKULLS of Extinct Camel (Camelops hesternus)

American Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana)

Shasta Ground Sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis)

Sloth skin bones (Harlan's ground sloth)

Black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)

California quail (Lophortyx californicus)

Bones of small birds, and fresh water shells

SKULL of Extinct Western horse (Equus occidentalis)

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SKULL & LEG comparisons of BLACK BEAR (Ursus americanus) to an AMERICAN LION (panthera leo atrox)

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SKULLS of DIRE WOLF (canis dirus), California SABER-TOOTH (Smilodon Californicus) (Juvenile and young adult)

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Imperial MAMMOTH (Mammuthus imperator) - Juvenile milk tooth compared to adult permanent molar

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SKULLS of Antique bison, and LEG BONES California Turkey (Parapavo californicus)

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Antique Bison and Saber toothed cat skulls

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Life wear on the California SABER-TOOTH CAT, showing broken & worn sabers, fused neck vertebrae, healed broken rib, fused back vertebrae; DIRE WOLF - comparison crippled leg & shoulder bone compared to normal

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California  SABER-TOOTH CAT skeleton, showing size next to Glenn

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Extinct CAMEL skeleton (Camelops hesternus)

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American MASTODON skeleton (Mammut americanum), mother and 6 year old baby

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Cutting edge prehistoric blades were glued to a wooden handle by asphalt and secured by animal tendons or sea grass cords.  Other artifacts found show how ancient peoples used asphalt in weapons, lures, tools and utensils

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During the Ice Age, the growth of continental glaciers locked up millions of cubic miles of precipitation that would normally have gone into the oceans.  The absence of this water lowered the sea level more than 300 feet, creating a land bridge connecting Asia & North America.  Ancient peoples and mammals crossed the bridge to populate North America.

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Woolly MAMMOTH (Mammuthus primigenius) two-thirds of actual size, they are smaller than Columbian mammoths, about the size of Asian elephants.

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Columbian MAMMOTH skeleton (Mammuthus columbi), this specimen is 12 feet tall

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Shasta GROUND SLOTH Skeleton (Nothrotheriops shastense), a browser on shrubs or low-hanging tree branches 

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Scapula (shoulder blade) from Giant ground sloth

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I believe this is a Condor

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Merriam's Giant CONDOR (Teratornis merriami)

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La Brea CARACARA skeleton (Polyborus prelutosus), an extinct long-legged scavenger related to falcons and caracaras.

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California TURKEY skeleton

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DIRE WOLF SKULLS (Canis dirus)  an incredible 404 dire wolf skulls represent only a portion of the more than 1600 wolves' remains found here at La Brea

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DIRE WOLF skeleton, a close relative of the timber wolf but with stronger teeth and jaws, hunted in packs

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American Lion (Felis atrox), a fierce predator larger than the Indian Tiger, African lion or California Saber-toothed cat

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California SABER TOOTHED CAT skeleton

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Diorama of Saber toothed CAT family

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Short-faced bear (Arctodus sinus) now extinct, was a foot taller than the grizzly and about TWICE its weight

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An amazing display of GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos) FOOT BONES from 1000 birds

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One room, and mirror to show the size of the rooms holding trays of fossils

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Extinct Western HORSE skeleton

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Diorama of Saber toothed CAT attacking a giant ground SLOTH, as seen by a woolly

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A near-complete COLUMBIAN MAMMOTH 


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being worked on in the Paleontology Lab at the Page Museum

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He had a rough life in the Ice Age, sporting a couple of broken ribs and a cancerous lesion on his jaw before dying at the age of 40 (60 is average). Both tusks were found intact (a rare occurrence).

In 2006, an earth moving machine making a parking garage close to the Page Museum property came upon the skeleton by hitting the skull. The museum paleontologists "tree-boxed" 23 crates of 2-3 million fossils from this site as quickly as possible, so contractors could continue their work.  It is now called Project 23.  For more info, link here to the Page Museum or read other news articles by typing in "Zed mammoth":



More info on Zed below that we documented from our visit

One of Zed's tusks still in plaster

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Rib and leg bones, I am speculating

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Zed's lower jaw

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A spaghetti of Zed's bones they are working on

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Mammoth vertebra

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Sorting micro fossils from crevices in the neck vertebra

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Leg bone

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Normal ankle bone, compared to Zed's (very large) bone

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Thoracic vertebrae

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A funny tool, paleontologists have a sense of humor too!

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