LA BREA TAR PITS, a mammoth's nightmare…
Go back 11,000 years and you’d find a Los Angeles in the throws of the Last Ice Age. It would be teaming with wildlife: mastodons, mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves… go to the La Brea Tar Pits Museum today, and you’ll find a collection of fossils from those exotic beasts of yore.
The fossils on display at the museum— over 1 million in all— were excavated from the tar pits at the very site on which the museum sits.
How’d they get there? For thousands of years, prehistoric animals, insects and plant life became trapped in the heavy, viscous asphalt of the pits. Lucky for science, the pits do a beautiful job of perfectly preserving fossils.
Excavation of the pits first began in the early 1900’s and, in 1977, the George C. Page Museum (renamed the La Brea Tar Pits Museum) was opened to house and exhibit the fossil discoveries.
Today, the museum is not merely a museum, but an active paleontological site. You can watch scientists at work in the Fossil Lab, gently sifting through materials for bone fragments.
In 2006, LACMA built an underground parking garage and encountered 16 new asphaltic fossil deposits. These were recovered in 23 large wooden “tree” boxes (dubbed Project 23) and are currently being excavated by museum paleontologists. If you see a collection of over-sized wooden crates that look like set pieces from Jurassic Park, that’s them. Inside are fossils of “Zed,” the near complete Columbian Mammoth, found in Project 23.
In terms of LA museums, this one is small, much smaller than its closest counter-part, the Natural History Museum. For an adult, it’s $12 to get in, which, frankly, feels a little steep. Street parking in the area can be difficult to find, so, if you’re driving, expect to add an extra $12 for parking.
You can take several docent led tours that are included in the price of the ticket. Get the inside story of how the famous Lake Pit came to be, step inside the Observation Pit to see what a tar pit dig looks like, and discover what’s being dug up that day at Project 23.
If you’ve got kids in tow and want to add to the day, get a ticket to the 3D movie, Titans of the Ice Age. You can also do what we so often do and pack a picnic and a soccer ball.
5801 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Monday-Sunday 9:30am - 5:00pm