You wouldn’t think that swanky Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles would be the home of mud and goo, but the La Brea Tar Pits have been around a whole lot longer than Saks Fifth Avenue or Neiman Marcus.
Asphalt (not tar) has been seeping through the earth’s crust at this site for millennia. Over that long period of time, seepage pools at the surface have entrapped plants and animals that have had the misfortune to get caught in the sticky stuff. (In the pond at the front of the Page Museum, life-size fiberglass representations of mammoths in distress show what this might have been like.)
It’s only been over the last 100 years that palaeontologists have been excavating the site and discovering millions of bones and fossils belonging to a variety of mammals and birds. Although they’ve found many species that are still alive today, like bison, condors, and wolves, there are many which don’t exist anymore, Ice Age creatures such as mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, and more.
The Page Museum was built in 1977 to house all of these discoveries, and visitors can see skeletons of what these animals looked like. It’s a little humbling to stand beneath the five foot tusks of a Columbian Mammoth!
There’s also a fishbowl laboratory where visitors can see staff and volunteers cleaning new finds from the pits which continue to be excavated at the site today.
And for a lesson in what it would be like to be stuck in the viscous goo, there’s a great interactive exhibit called the Tar Pull, where visitors can pull pistons up and down in liquid asphalt. After trying that, you will easily understand how animals found it difficult to escape from the tar and why over 3.5 million fossils have been found so far!