Rancho La Brea Photo Album

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Wandering scholars discover the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits.

Recent travels allowed for a quick visit to the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.  Now in their one hundredth year of excavation, the site has yielded over 600 species to date with a NISP of over 3.5 million (not counting over 200 bacteria).  It’s a remarkable place and I feel privileged to to have been given an excellent tour by Dr John Harris and Curator Gary Takeuchi.  Tar still bubbles and oozes and excavations continue, thanks in part to continuing growth of this highly urbanized area.

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Chuck and George with Dr John Harris and Gary Takeuchi

Although most of the tar seeps are closed off for safety, a couple can be accessed with a guide.  The surface is just as deceptive as it is described and is often covered with leaves and dirt.  The tar can also be deceptively solid feeling until the incredible stickiness locks your feet to the tar.  Dr Harris provided a great example by having us poke the tar with a wooden lath.  Even though it is solid enough to resist the lath for more than a top inch or two, it is extremely difficult to pull it back out again and it’s easy to imagine a hooved animal becoming mired almost instantly to await it’s demise by large cat or wolf or even thirst.

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You just gotta poke it with a stick…

For reasons that aren’t completely clear, there are an extremely high number of predators and scavengers in the mix, implying that many carnivores may be tempted by a struggling animal but the more cautious grazers were likely scared away by their thrashing comrades.  The upshot of this is an enormous number of coyotes, wolves, saber-toothed cats, short-faced bears, and American lions as well as the full gamut of vulture-like birds filling these pits and seeps.  Below I am holding the humerus of a Smilodon fatalis, a prevalent creature at the Tar Pits.

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Examining a freshly excavated smilodon humerus (upper arm of saber-toothed cat).

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Examining the mounted saber-toothed cats.

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And of course, a mammoth.

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A couple of mastodon.

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Just a glimpse of the over 3.5 million specimens housed at the Page.

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We had a wonderful tour of the “fish-bowl” lab by Shelly Cox.  Here we examine the newly cleaned mammoth tusk.

Tusks grow like tree-rings and tell scientists a lot about the environment the creature lived in by proxy.  A section of this particular specimen has been removed for analysis already.

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Cranium of a very familiar looking mammoth. Although not found inundated in tar, there is still enough in the sediment that it is oozing from the cleaned skull.

For anyone interested in Ice Age fauna, the Page Museum is a definite “must see” stop on the journey through life.

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Click the mammoth to see more from the Page Museum at http://www.tarpits.org.

Mammoths didn’t go out with a bang

From Nature

Study suggests Beringia’s shaggy behemoths went extinct after a slow and gradual decline.

“Why are there no more woolly mammoths? The last isolated island populations of these huge beasts disappeared about 4,000 years ago — well after the Pleistocene extinction that wiped out much of the world’s megafauna — but what triggered their demise remains a frustrating mystery. According to the latest study to contribute to the ongoing debate, the last mammoths disappeared after a long, slow decline in numbers rather than because of a single cause.”  Read on.

Mammoth Butchered By Lions Then Seized By Humans

The Yuka Mammoth.  A very interesting and important find from Siberia tells us some harsh facts about its demise.  Investigators believe it was taken by a large predator, possibly a lion, then stolen away by humans.  “Even more interesting, there are hints that humans may have taken over the kill at an early stage.”

Tusk and tooth analysis indicate that the mammoth was about two and a half years old when it died.  I haven’t seen an academic publication yet but hope to read more about it soon.  The dates discussed are tentatively about 10,000 years old, placing the find near the end of our Paleoindian period.  Healed wounds on the hide suggest that the young mammoth survived an earlier attack but fresh wounds were likely related to the cause of death.  Later cuts on the hide and bones, with the subsequent removal of the skull, ribs, and pelvis are believed to be caused by humans.  Hopefully, further investigations with clarify the human interaction.

Soft tissue preservation is rare and will add greatly to our general knowledge of this extinct species.  Read the story here.

Below is a great link to learn more about Eurasian mammoths, brought to you by the BBC.

Mammoth Sculpture

A new work by Jud Turner caught my attention as I really want a mammoth representation for the Clovis site.  Much of his work is from found or salvaged objects but have a distinctly biological “feel”.

I know it doesn’t really aide the viewer in any scientific way but I think the sense of scale is transmitted by life-size representations, whether three-dimensional, flat, or even abstract.  The construction photos on his site are fairly impressive due to the scale of the project.