Science

The La Brea Tar Pits are stuffed with mysteries. Listed here are three of essentially the most mysterious

The La Brea Tar Pits are stuffed with mysteries. Listed here are three of essentially the most mysterious

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28, 2022: Life-size Columbian mammoths graze on the edge of a large tar pit at the La Brea Tar Pits on October 28, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.  The city's La Brea Tar Pits have been named one of the 100 original IUGS Geological Heritage Sites worldwide.  (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The lake pit in entrance of the La Brea Tar Pit Museum is left over from nineteenth-century asphalt mining. (Gina Ferrazzi/Los Angeles Occasions)

Final yr we began inviting readers Ship us your burning questions about Los Angeles and California.

Each few weeks we ask questions votingasking readers to resolve which query they want to see answered in story kind.

This query, requested by Ricky Fulton, was included in one among our current reader surveys: What are the La Brea Tar Pits? Is it a pile of boiling resin with dinosaur bones protruding?

You possibly can vote in our subsequent reader ballot right here. Compensate for earlier tales written as a part of this challenge right here.

There’s extra to the La Brea Tar Pits than meets the attention.

For individuals who do not know La Brea Tar Pits is internationally acknowledged geological heritage website, situated in downtown Los Angeles. The positioning is understood for its many fossil quarries (referred to as “pits”) the place animals, crops and bugs have been trapped and preserved within the asphalt for the previous 50,000 years.

For scientists, they’re a useful and distinctive treasure trove of knowledge that enables us to higher perceive what historical life was like in fashionable Los Angeles.

“The science you are able to do on the La Brea Tar Pits is one thing you may’t do at different paleontological websites on this planet simply because we’ve got so many fossils and so they’re so effectively preserved,” stated Emily Lindsey , deputy curator and director of excavations.

Contained in the smelly slime—a curiosity for locals, vacationers, and faculty kids on discipline journeys—greater than 3.5 million fossils had been found.

To reply Fulton’s query instantly, here is one factor they did not discover within the pits: dinosaurs.

That is proper – it is an Ice Age fossil website, and consultants have not discovered any stays T. rexovtriceratops or different non-avian dinosaurs.

Whereas the La Brea Tar Pits lack dinosaur fossils, they’re stuffed with fossils of legendary Ice Age animals. The 2 commonest giant mammals? Dire Wolves (shout out to all “Recreation of Thronesfollowers) and saber-toothed cats.

A woman examines a fossil exhibit at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles

Columbian mammoths and mastodons as soon as referred to as Los Angeles residence. Immediately, their stays may be seen within the La Brea Museum and Pits. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Occasions)

Even though scientists progressive findingsmysteries proceed to swirl within the flowing pits.

Generally, Lindsay stated, issues that scientists no want the finds within the tar pits are as fascinating because the bones and different objects they reveal.

Lindsey described the puzzles surrounding tar pits that stay to be solved.

Listed here are three of essentially the most thrilling:

Why are the stays of some native species—reminiscent of mountain lions—principally absent from tar pits?

One thing shocking: scientists have discovered comparatively few stays of mountain lions in tar pits.

Hollywood movie star standing P-22 apart, it could appear odd to fret concerning the absence of some mountain lion fossils when tar pits have turned up the stays of extinct mammoths, dire wolves, and large floor sloths.

Nonetheless, it is shocking that the mountain lions that existed within the Los Angeles space throughout the Ice Age make up such a small share of what scientists have present in tar pits. The Tar Pits include the stays of no less than seven totally different mountain lions, and there are someplace between 2,500 and three,000 saber-toothed cats.

And never solely mountain lions have disappeared from tar smokehouses.

“We now have only a few mountain lions, only a few deer … and just one raccoon,” she stated. Apart from coyotesscientists discovered “only a few of those [large mammal] “survivors of the ice age”, which is attention-grabbing.”

Why may mountain lions be absent from tar pits?

The reply may assist scientists construct a extra detailed image of what life was like in prehistoric Los Angeles.

Lindsey and her colleagues have a number of concepts. Amongst different potential explanations, it’s doable that mountain lions have at all times most well-liked to be within the highlands somewhat than the flatter areas of contemporary Los Angeles close to the tar pits.

Or maybe mountain lions had been afraid to hunt in the identical areas as saber-toothed cats. “A mountain lion is sort of a home cat subsequent to a saber-toothed cat – [it’s possible] they needed to remain away and never be round all these huge scary issues.’

The place is the proof of human life?

Mountain lions, raccoons and deer should not the one mammals absent from tar pits. The dearth of human stays can be putting.

There have been individuals right here, however why do we discover no proof of their presence within the La Brea Tar Pits?” Lindsey requested. “We now have one human skeleton, in addition to some artifacts which might be in all probability all from the Holocene (our present geological period), however we’ve got no proof of people interbreeding or interacting with the megafauna” via looking.

That is shocking as a result of “many—maybe even most—scientists consider that the primary explanation for megafauna extinction was human exercise,” Lindsay explains.

As with mountain lions, Lindsey notes that the absence of historical people could point out their reticence to hunt saber-toothed cats and different harmful animals.

A group of adults and children watch a demonstration in the Fossil Lab

Individuals watch an illustration on the La Brea Tar Pit Fossil Lab and Museum. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Occasions)

“Maybe the tradition that existed right here was tailored to the coast and didn’t must endure, for instance, a pack of dire wolves to hunt a horse or a camel,” she stated. “They may keep close to the shore. and gather shellfish.”

Why did giant mammals start to vanish – and what does this inform us about our future?

As soon as upon a time, large mammals roamed the huge expanses of the earth.

“Australia had large wombats, Madagascar had large lemurs, South America had large sloths and armadillos,” Lindsay stated.

So, asks Lindsay, why do not we’ve got saber-toothed cats, mammoths, and large floor sloths roaming Wilshire Boulevard in the present day?

A dramatic change has taken place. “On the finish of the ice age, one thing occurred and it worn out the highest of the physique distribution all over the place besides Africa,” she stated. “That is the largest extinction because the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years in the past.”

Much more scary, the lack of the enormous mammals shall be acknowledged as “the primary impulse of the biodiversity disaster we discover ourselves in in the present day,” she stated.

Why did this extinction happen? “Most scientists consider that people will need to have performed a reasonably vital position on this extinction. However the different factor that was occurring was that we had been popping out of the Ice Age, the final main episode of worldwide warming,” she stated.

“Understanding the interplay between local weather change and human exercise, how that impacts ecosystems and the way these two processes can intersect to result in extinction is extremely vital.”

The La Brea Tar Pits are positioned to assist resolve the thriller of why precisely the enormous mammals went extinct due to the scale and scope of the finds, which may be radiocarbon dated and matched to recognized shifts that occurred concurrently with people and local weather.

Two men are kneeling on the ground carefully digging up fossils

Two volunteers dig up fossils within the La Brea Pits. (Gina Ferrazzi/Los Angeles Occasions)

On the opposite facet of the coin, 90% of the species discovered within the tar smokehouses didn’t change into extinct. “Our checklist consists of many rabbits, rodents, lizards, bugs and songbirds that also reside within the Los Angeles space in the present day,” Lindsey stated by way of electronic mail.

“We’re a document of survival and resilience,” she stated, which raises a number of questions. “What made mountain lions profitable? What made coyotes so profitable? What introduced success to the oaks?”

How local weather disaster is worsening in the present day, the solutions to those mysteries could level the way in which into the longer term.

“The following few many years to a number of centuries shall be a really huge world change,” Lindsey stated. “How can we use this info to reside on?”

This existential query ought to offer you one thing to ponder the subsequent time you cross the legendary (and soul-crushing) Tar Pits. mammoth statues off Wilshire Blvd.

This story was written in direct response to a reader’s query concerning the La Brea tar pits. Have a query about residing in Los Angeles or California? Ask us!

This story initially appeared in Los Angeles Occasions.



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