Have you ever wondered where so many museums get their bones and artifacts? Many of them come from tar pits. The La Brea Tar Pits were first discovered in 1875 and have given scientists the bones of mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and other Ice Age creatures.
Millions of years ago, animals who were wandering around, hiding from predators or searching for food, would often accidentally fall into the tar pits and become stuck there. Eventually they would sink to the bottom, where they became somewhat preserved. Scientists who dig at the site of tar pits such as the La Brea Tar Pits can dig up the bones of these animals and reconstruct them at museums and study them.
“Earlier excavations really missed a great part of the story,” said John Harris, chief curator at the George C. Page Museum, which oversees the fossil collection. People “were only taking out bones they could see, but it’s the hidden bones that provide clues to the environment.”
Excavations at the La Brea Tar Pits began in 1913 and since then, researchers have discovered close to 5.5 million bones from more than 600 species of animals and plants. The museum is celebrating 100 years of digging and will be displaying more artifacts and bones than ever, in honor of the milestone.
Scientists have learned a lot from the fossils they have discovered in the pits, but are planning to leave some artifacts behind in case better excavation tools become available in the future and so future researches can uncover and study them as desired.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.