Unusual Finds At La Brea Tar Pits
Then there is the sites second interesting characteristic:
Something that is very unusual is that we find way more carnivores than herbivores. That is not normal in an ecosystem.
She compares this with the ecosystem of the African Savanna:
The African Savanna is the last remaining normal Cenozoic ecosystem. Youve got hippos, rhinos, elephants, wildebeest and impalas and zebras, then a few lions and cheetahs its very much that food pyramid. At the Tar Pits, its reversed for the big animals. There will be 5,000 dire wolves, 3000 sabre-toothed cats, and fewer than 40 mammoths.
Firstly, then, the asphalt is actively trapping things. Both the big things like mastodons and dire wolves, and also the birds that land there, the insects that land or blow into it, and the leaf material that blows in and gets stuck, like fly paper.
The second thing is that something about the nature of the asphalt prevents the decay of most of these tissues. Plant cellulose is preserved, bone collagen is preserved, and insect chitin is preserved. The shells of little fresh water clams and snails are preserved. We dont get keratin, so there are no feathers or fur, interestingly.
There is something about the properties of the asphalt that prevents water from going through. That probably prevents a lot of microbial action that would normally decompose this material. So, it stays preserved for tens of thousands of years.
Impactful Research At La Brea Tar Pits
She gives some examples of the practical applications of that knowledge:
We currently have a partnership with some local entities in the LA area. These are The Nature Conservancy, a big international conservation organisation, and also LA City and County government. We are guiding restoration plans locally in LA. For instance, we are helping inform which will be the best plants to grow, given predicted climate scenarios, based on what has made it through these last major climatic upheavals.
Additionally, she says:
In the bigger picture, if we can figure out exactly what was going on when these animals disappeared, it shines a lot of light on whats happening today.
We have a pretty good idea of that now, though, unfortunately, I cant talk about it just yet. But there are actions that conservation organisations can take. Also, just from a communication standpoint, in terms of getting people to understand the urgency of addressing whats happening today, this is a key opportunity, from the research at the museum and the public platform that the museum has, to talk to the world about what happens when we have a lot of people on a dramatically warming landscape, and what that means for ecosystems.
The reimagined La Brea Tar Pits is scheduled to open in 2028.
Top image: WEISS/MANFREDI design featuring a bridge across the Lake Pit at La Brea Tar Pits. Rendering courtesy of WEISS/MANFREDI.
Are You A Saber
This summer make amazing discoveries about this fantastic feline. As the first confirmed fossil found here at La Brea Tar Pits, saber-toothed cats are iconic symbols of Ice Age Los Angeles and California as a whole. In 1974, the saber-toothed cat was officially designated as our state fossil. Just like L.A., saber-toothed cats have killer vibes. This powerful predator is captured perfectly in its scientific name, Smilodon fatalis, coming from the Greek smilodon for blade and tooth, and the Latin fatalis for deadly.
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Safety Measures & Guidelines
The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County no longer requires masks worn at all times indoors and in our outdoor Butterfly Pavilion, regardless of vaccination status. In accordance with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, we still strongly recommend all visitors to continue wearing masks while indoors and ask that individual choices are respected.
Please respect our staff
We look forward to your visit. Please note, the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County will not tolerate inappropriate behavior, including, but not limited to, yelling, violence, intimidation, threats, harassment, aggression, swearing, damage, abuse, or sexual harassment. Individuals who are aggressive toward staff or other visitors will be expelled from La Brea Tar Pits and escorted off the property.
The Excavator Tour explores the Fossil Lab where real paleontologists work, our historic excavation sites, and Project 23, where live excavations can be seen.
The Excavator Tour explores the Fossil Lab where real paleontologists work, our historic excavation sites, and Project 23, where live excavations can be seen.
Exploring The Ice Age
When people think of the Ice Age, certainly in the UK, they tend to picture woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos. However:
We dont have so many woolly things here its Los Angeles, and its sunny. We have Colombian mammoths. They are not the not-furry kind and look a lot like elephants. We have mastodons, we have camels, horses, and bison. Also, we have giant ground sloths, we have sabre-tooth cats, we have dire wolves, we have American lions, other big cats, and giant bears.
There are also a lot of big birds that went extinct at the end of the Ice Age, she adds. Thats something people dont know that much about, but there were big birds like Teratorns, and different species of storks and eagles and so on that went extinct at the same time that the mammals did.
These are things that the La Brea Tar Pits site captures.
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Advanced Tickets Are Recommended For Entry For All Guests And Are Available Online
- Admission tickets require a date selection.
- L.A. County Residents get free Museum Admission from 3-5 pm. Tickets are available at the Museum ticketing desk or kiosks.
Members, click on the button below to be taken to your Member Portal where you can select your tickets.
- Face coverings are required indoors for ALL guests over age 2, regardless of vaccination status. Read our safety guidelines before your visit.
- In accordance with the L.A. City Municipal Code Ordinance all eligible patrons are required to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test performed within 72 hours. Full vaccination is 14+ days after receiving a one-dose vaccine or 14+ days after receiving both doses of a two-dose vaccine. Visitors 18+ must also show a valid photo ID. Children 11 and under are currently exempt from this mandate.
- Tickets are currently available through January 31.
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La Brea Tar Pits & Lord Cultural Resources
With the transformation planning underway, the Museum engaged Lord Cultural Resources, the worlds largest cultural professional practice, to develop a financial model and business plan for its operations that would flexibly accommodate the project as it evolves.
Our team developed a two-phased process that includes thorough research and analysis of the envisioned operation leading to a sustainable Business Plan, says Andrea Kezdi, director of marketing and business development at Lord Cultural Resources. The plan is backed up by clear assumptions and integrated with a financial model that the Museum can then own and further update to reflect future operating conditions and project developments.
Fleshing Out Extinct Animals
All our paleoart begins with a list of goals and objectives created by our Exhibition Team. What should this work teach to our patrons should it make them feel awe or fear what format will it be in, a movie, an AR lens, a printed image? Answering these questions up front helps us better define scope, final file formats, and aesthetics.
Once these broader objectives are determined, the paleoartist always works closely with a paleontologist to examine real fossil material and learn about the biology of an extinct organism. How would it have behaved? What was its role in the ancient environment? This research, combined with inferences from modern species, leads to a series of orthogonal 2D sketches, refined by the paleontologist, that will serve as the basis for an initial 3D model.
If we dont already have a nice 3D scan of a fossil in our Sketchfab collection, we can quickly build a rough photogrammetry model of the fossil for the artist to sculpt over, ensuring biological accuracy. While these models arent intended for public consumption, they are very useful to the paleoartist as well as the team working behind the scenes to build the exhibition. Using the AR feature in the Sketchfab app, we could experiment with different placements and orientations of this ammonoid fossil in our physical gallery without ever having to touch the actual fossil, which is incredibly heavy and irreplaceable.
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Talking About Science In The Public Sphere
Dr Bettison-Varga has been president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County since 2015. A geologist, she received her PhD from the University of California, Davis.
When this position came up, it was very intriguing, she says. It appealed to my desire as a geologist to be able to talk about science today in a public sphere, helping to encourage engagement of communities with science. Also, I had grown up with La Brea Tar Pits and with the Natural History Museum. Im from Long Beach, California. I remember my mom taking us to the Tar Pits right after the museum opened.
It is also an internationally revered location:
Being able to take the work that I had done in higher ed into the museum world was a real opportunity to impact the public. Having worked in the educational system as a geologist was a way to really open my mind to these concepts were confronting today in the museum world.
Speaking of the Tar Pits expansion project, she comments:
There is a lot of responsibility involved in this project. It is a fascinating science. I think we need more people to really appreciate it, and understand what it tells us.
La Brea Tar Pits Explores The Reality Of Climate Change
A certain amount of denial in the face of climate change still persists:
30 years ago, I was teaching oceanography at the College of Wooster . I was teaching climate change. We called it global warming back then. It was fairly new. Yet I felt that if there was even a chance that these predictions were right, we had to start understanding and making changes.
Any other course of action, she felt, would mean taking unconscionable risks with the planet:
I think its increasingly difficult for folks to not see the reality of whats happening today, and connect it to humans intervention as a planet.
On the other hand:
I think this is the challenge we have in natural history museums: we talk about time. We talk about Earths history. Its deep time and the Tar Pits is not deep time. its 50,000 years. But we need to place the rate of change in context. Otherwise, its easy for folks to hang onto this notion that Well, the climates always changed, so of course, its changing today.
The La Brea Tar Pits is a place to say: Yes, it has always changed, but lets talk about the rate of change. And lets talk about what happens when that coincides with humans use of fossil fuels. And lets do it in a place that is ironic because this is where fossil fuels were extracted.
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La Brea Tar Pits And Museum Tickets
- Watch excavators dig for plant and animal fossils
- Visit exhibitions featuring saber-toothed cats and mammoths
- Observe scientists working in the Fossil Lab
Experience the La Brea Tar Pits, where plants and animals from the last 50,000 years are discovered every day.
Discover science in action and make discoveries right alongside the scientists. Step into the past and experience the Ice Age come to life as you explore the world’s only active, urban Ice Age excavation site. In the park, check out the Tar Pits where the tar is still bubbling, along with active fossil excavation sites to see what excavators have uncovered that very day. Then, enter the museum and watch as scientists clean and study the unearthed fossils right before your eyes in the Fossil Lab. Inside the Museum is where the best fossils, animals, and plants that have been discovered are showcased – mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and more! Its a gateway back to the Ice Age, right in the heart of L.A.
- La Brea Tar Pits and Museum Admission
Engaging Visitors With Science
Part of this involves drawing people into that scientific process, engaging them with it, and making it relevant to them.
They are connected to it by location, Bettison-Varga points out. They are right there at the site where the fossils are extracted. So, they can see the whole process of discovery and can link it to whats happening today.
We are trusted sources of information, and we are advocates for science. We want to draw people in and help them explore the science on their own terms.
It is the place where we can introduce folks who are not sure about the science of climate change to what we know, how we know it, and how the past helps us understand the present day, and enables us to think about the future.
That, she says, is the beauty of museums:
We are trusted sources of information, and we are advocates for science. We want to draw people in and help them explore the science on their own terms, in ways that help them see how relevant it is to them, and how approachable it can be to them to understand what we know, and how we know it.
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Inspiring Wonder At La Brea Tar Pits
It is the function of a museum like this, she feels, to be a place where people feel a sense of belonging.
I think it is critical that museums shift to the third space, where this is our community space, as much as it is the space of the scientists or the educators who work there. It is also really important, in Los Angeles that our museums are connecting with a diverse audience, and fostering a new face of science. The future of science has to reach out broadly and be representative. We have the perfect location to do that in Los Angeles, with such a diverse population.
The core function of the museum remains:
Obviously, we are places that should continue to inspire wonder and an appreciation of the biodiversity of this planet natural history museums have that ability and responsibility. People understand the value of the collecting that we do as a way of recording whats happening on the planet, and how we are advocates for life on the planet.
Making The Site Globally Accessible
Using the digital space to make the site globally accessible is on the agenda:
That is definitely part of our plans, Dr Bettison-Varga says. Its a whole other opportunity for us. We know, after all, after two-plus years of COVID, that we can actually do that. Certainly, at the reimagined La BreaTar Pits, connecting through our theatre auditorium spaces and technology digitally is going to be much easier to do than it is now.
I think also that theres a little bit of fatigue around digital. So, considering how to do it in a way that people feel they really want to access it is going to be key. Well see how the trends change.
Dr Bettison-Vargas continuing vision for the Natural History Museum goes back to that notion of being a place where people feel they belong:
Obviously, inclusivity is part of it, she concedes. But its more than just being included, its belonging, having a voice, and participating.
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Your Experience With La Brea Tar Pits And Museum Ticket
- See something amazing at the Famous La Brea Tar Pits that harbor various ancient remains of extinct animals like mammoths, saber – toothed cats, dire wolves, ground sloths and so on.
- Explore the well-maintained museum of La Brea Tar where these uncovered prehistoric fossils are kept for showcasing.
- Visit important highlights of this place like the Fossil Lab, Observation Pit, Project 23 and the evacuators who are helping to unlock these prehistoric doors.