La Brea Tar Pits Celebrates 100 Years of Discovery

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The animals paid with their lives, but visitors to the La Brea Tar Pits got in free today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of excavations on the site. The unassuming museum complex on Wilshire Boulevard is considered the only urban-located, Ice Age site that is being actively excavated.

Since 1913, scientists have discovered more than five million fossils covering over 600 species of flora and fauna. Finds are displayed at the George C. Page Museum and they include saber-toothed cats, mammoths, mastodons, dire wolves (yes, Game of Thrones fans, they did exist) and smaller creatures down to 'microfossils', which will be featured during a museum-sponsored conference tomorrow.

John M. Harris, chief curator of vertebrate studies at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, says of the mini-finds, "For decades we collected and presented statue-like examples of the mega-fauna of the past. Now we're attempting to preserve a whole prehistoric ecosystem and chronicle how it changed over time."

Tomorrow's Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual conference will draw 1,300 paleontologists from across the globe to the site. Lecture topics include what insect-damaged fossils reveal about the Ice Age and technology that allows greater precision in dating and analyzing specimens.

Microfossils cover finds such as insects and bits of larger animals or plants that are found with the larger fossils most familiar to most of us. On the recently discovered skull of an aging saber-tooth cat scientists call 'Gimli', Page laboratory supervisor, Shelley Cox, was most excited by the minuscule thorax of an ant.

"Next to Gimli we found skeletal remains of at least 18 horned lizards, which eat ants," says Cox in an LA Times interview. "So we were able to make a connection that sharpens our knowledge of a moment in time and place."

This is the first Society convention to be held in Los Angeles in almost four decades.


[Images via Page Museum Facebook.]

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