La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits are located right in the middle of Los Angeles. This may seem to be odd place to find an area where asphalt has been seeping up through earth for the past ten thousand years, but Los Angeles is a very odd place. La Brea was first recorded by Spanish explorers in the 1700s. La Brea means “the tar” – it is unknown who tagged on the completely unnecessary label “tar pits” to the Spanish “La Brea”. Rendered into English, “La Brea Tar Pits” becomes “The Tar Tar Pits”. Clearly, lack of imagination plagued both English and Spanish explorers. Nevertheless, the tar pits are of tremendous important to palaeontology, as they contain the remains of thousands of animals including mammoths, horses, eagles, dire wolves, lions and the most iconic tar pit animal of all: the sabre-toothed cat. Investigations into the pits began mid 20th century and are still ongoing today.

La Brea Tar Pits

Animals likely wandered into the pits by mistake. The dangerous tar can be covered by water or debris, and a thirsty animal becomes trapped. A trapped herbivore is easy prey for the various predators wandering the ancient California plains. Dire wolves (canis dirus) likely attacked as a pack becoming trapped as well, along with the big cats: lions (felis atrox) and the famous sabre-toothed cat (smilodon californius).

The dire wolf was larger then the extant timbre wolf (canis lupus)

This display contains 400 dire wolf skulls

Over 1200 dire wolf skulls have been found in the pits so far. This wall display only shows a mere 400.  The pits also contain an a impressive range of extinct eagles, vultures, and other aerial scavengers of the dead. The museum has built an interactive display where children can experience being trapped in tar pits in a safe and clean way. They have placed two metal rods in the asphalt to simulate legs, pulling them out of asphalt is a tremendous task. Right away we can see how the animals became stuck fast. The pits are a rare window into a time when North America was a very different place: a home to giants.

Columbian Mammoth with puny human for scale

Notice the huge paws. This cat could take on some very large prey.

The George C. Page museum, named after the philanthropist, was created to house the impressive collection of bones. A fish bowl laboratory was set up where visitors may watch the sorting, identification, and cataloguing of material pulled from the excavation pit, which is also on the museum grounds. The pit, only active during the summer months, has a public viewing area where visitors can watch and marvel that the excavation pit is indeed full of asphalt. The pits themselves surround the museum, still bubbling away after tens of thousands of years. The pits are fenced off for safety. Only one human was ever found in the pits – a testament to the intelligence of our species, or to the fact that beer had not been invented yet.

Do not go in for a swim. Those mammoths are not having a good time.

Just out of curiosity I wondered what the creationists thought of the La Brea Tar Pits. Answers in Genesis thinks this is a wonderful chance:

to discuss how scientists interpret their findings based on their beliefs about the past and the age of the layers in the rock record.

I think AIG just summed up what scientists do not do in one sentence. And the bones were found in asphalt, not rock. Come on, creationists, you are not even trying; are you giving up? Sheesh.

This could be your Graduate project. What are you waiting for?

Official Web Site of the La Brea Tar Pits

Wikipedia Entry: La Brea Tar Pits

NOM NOM NOM

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One Response to “La Brea Tar Pits”

  1. The Tar Pits are a wonderful time capsule. A smart Creationist will never challenge this dig. The collections and methodology of this working scientific site are very transparent and easily fact checked. In my 35+ years of following modern science, The Tar Pits are a great place to cut your teeth into paleontology. And a young researcher can have a more comfortable field job than say a counterpart in Tanzania or Siberia.

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