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La Brea Tar Pits are a group of tar pits around which Hancock Park was formed in urban Los Angeles. Natural asphalt (also called asphaltum, bitumen, pitch, or tar—brea in Spanish) has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. The tar is often covered with dust, leaves, or water.
The extinct animals discovered at La Brea Tar Pits were trapped in the asphalt between 11,000 to 50,000 years ago. They may have lived in the Los Angeles region for much of the last 100,000 years. Before that time the Los Angeles Basin was covered by the Pacific Ocean.
La Brea Tar Pits & Museum is on Wilshire Bl in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles. The museum remains closed until further notice. The Tar Pits and park is open and is the focus of my review. While this park is minutes away from Beverly Hills, it had been decades since my last visit.
- (213) 763-3499
- History of Rancho La Brea
- Peak Excavations
- George C. Page Museum
- Discovery in The Parking Lot!
- Summary of Important Dates and People
Rancho La Brea was a Mexican Land Grant of over 4,400 acres given to Antonio Jose Rocha in 1828, with the proviso that the residents of the pueblo could have access to as much asphalt as they needed for personal use. As Los Angeles grew, the Rancho was eventually subdivided and developed. Its last owner was George Allan Hancock, who recognized the scientific importance of the fossils found in the asphaltic deposits. Hancock Park was created in 1924 when he donated 23 acres of the ranch to the County of Los Angeles with the stipulation that the park be preserved and the fossils properly exhibited. The earliest written mention of the "springs of pitch" was in 1769 in the diary of Juan Crespi, a Franciscan friar who recorded the expedition of Gaspar de Portola, the first Spanish Governor of the Californias from 1769–70. More than a century passed before the first published mention of the occurrence of extinct fauna at Rancho La Brea was made by William Denton in 1875. Until then, the b...
Between 1905 and 1915, excavation at Rancho La Brea was at its peak. Foreign and domestic institutions became interested in acquiring fossils from the area and sent individuals or crews to collect and visiting amateurs were known to take away many souvenirs. Beginning in 1907, J. Z. Gilbert, zoology teacher at Los Angeles High School, periodically brought a work force of students to exhume specimens. Gilbert was the first to create local interest and monetary support through the Southern California Academy of Sciences and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and directed the excavation of a large "Academy Pit" in 1910. This served as the nucleus of the fossil vertebrate collections at the (then) fledgling Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County). Merriam finally secured funds in 1912 for the first large-scale excavations and the University of California excavations yielded thousands of specimens. G. Allan Hancock fe...
Future philanthropist George C. Page’s fascination with the "tar pits" brought him to Rancho La Brea to see the fossils after moving to California from Nebraska by 1917. To his disappointment, he found that the skeletons of Ice Age animals he sought were not onsite, but seven miles away at NHM. Over the course of his long business career, Page founded the Mission Pak Company and became a pioneer developer of industrial parks in the United States. He never forgot the La Brea fossils, however, which led to his offer to finance the construction of an onsite museum that would house the tar pit fossils. Construction began in 1975 and the George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries opened to the public in 1977. When the foundation for the Page Museum was excavated in 1975, an unusual, laterally extensive, deposit was discovered which contained the largest concentration of articulated and associated specimens ever collected from Rancho La Brea. With the cooperation of the contractors, 20...
Early in 2006 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art began construction of an underground parking garage at the west end of Hancock Park. Within the confines of the future structure (~100,000 sq. ft.), 16 previously unknown asphaltic fossil deposits were discovered along with the skeleton of a near-complete Columbian mammoth. In order to hasten construction, the 16 deposits were boxed into 23 large “tree-boxes” and crated to a safe location within Hancock Park. The mammoth skeleton was mapped, plaster-jacketed, and excavated and brought to the Museum. Since the summer of 2008, staff has been excavating the boxes and preparing the mammoth material. Dubbed Project 23, the fossils retrieved from this salvage effort may double the size of the existing collections. In recent years, subsurface testing and excavations for developments in and around Hancock Park have considerably augmented previously available stratigraphic information. A re-evaluation of information recorded during the early...1875: W. Denton first describes fossils from Rancho La Brea1901 : W. W. Orcutt and F. Anderson excavate at Rancho La Brea1905: J. C. Merriam from the University of California at Berkeley visits the locality and excavates1907: J. Z. Gilbert LA High School brings students to excavate
The La Brea Tar Pits. When this photograph was taken around 1910, the location depicted was described as "the Salt Creek oilfields, 7 miles west of Los Angeles." Today, this spot is in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, eloquent testimony to urban sprawl, but the pools and deposits of asphalt still remain. For these are the La Brea tar pits, containing one of the richest, best preserved, and best studied assemblages of Pleistocene vertebrates , including at least 59 species of mammal and ...
Individuals who are aggressive toward staff or other visitors will be expelled from La Brea Tar Pits and escorted off the property. Do it all, just not in one day! Become a member and have unlimited visits to the Natural History Museum, La Brea Tar Pits, and William S. Hart Museum.
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