June 24, 2017

Walking where mammoths once walked...

This is a post that is a year late! We went to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles in June last year, with Vijay's cousin Chaitan. This is one of the world's most famous fossil spots. I still feel overwhelmed each time I think of what we saw there.

Bang in the middle of the glamorous Hollywood are the tar pits (exactly that - a kind of pit filled with tar). Natural asphalt has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years, trapping several species of plants and animals. Digging is still ongoing in the pits, throwing up fossils of various kinds. Apparently new discoveries are made, if not every day, definitely every week!

The Tar Pits Museum houses the world's largest Ice Age fossil collection, which reveals what survived the last ice age and what did not. Ongoing research gives important clues about LA's climate change - both past and future (anybody listening?)

As soon as you enter, you see this recreation of a female mammoth going down into the tar, as the male and the baby mammoths helplessly watch. The pond contains tar and you can see it bubbling.



This is a mammoth that has been reconstructed from the fossils found at that spot. It has also been animated and it is so real that it is almost scary!

There are 404 skulls of the Dire Wolf (Canis dirus) here. They are only a portion of the more than 1600 wolves whose remains have been found here.  It is thought that packs of Dire Wolves attempted to feed on the animals trapped in the asphalt and became mired themselves.   


Merriam's Giant Condor (Teratornis merriami) has been reconstructed and the painting behind gives a good idea of how this bird looked. The great body size of this extinct bird is very apparent, and the hooked beak must've been used to feed on large dead animals.
To think that we were walking at the very same spot where mammoths, wolves, condors, sabre-toothed tigers and other extinct animals walked freely 20,000 to 40,000 years ago, was completely mind boggling. This was definitely one of the best things we saw during our visit to the US in June-July 2016.

[With information from plaques at the museum and from the internet] 

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Watch this short but informative video. It gives a good idea of the work at the tar pits.