The La Brea tar pits are full of secrets. Here are the three most puzzling

The La Brea tar pits are full of secrets.  Here are the three most puzzling
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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28, 2022: Life-size Columbus mammoths adorn the rim of a large tar pit at the La Brea Tar Pits on October 28, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.  The city of La Brea Tar Pits has been named one of the original 100 IUGS Geological Heritage Sites worldwide. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

The lake pit in front of the La Brea Tar Pits Museum is a remnant of nineteenth-century asphalt mining. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

Last year we started inviting readers Send us your current questions About Los Angeles and California.

Every few weeks we ask our questions voteasks readers to decide which question they would like to see answered in the form of a story.

This question by Ricky Fulton was included in one of our most recent reader polls: What are the La Brea Tar Pits? Is it a bunch of bubbling resin with dinosaur bones sticking out?

You can vote in our next reader question poll here. Explore previous stories written as part of this project here.

There’s more to the La Brea Tar Pits than meets the eye — and the nose.

For those who don’t know La Brea tar pits internationally known geological heritage site, located in the middle of Los Angeles. The site is known for its many fossil quarries (called “pits”) where animals, plants and insects have been trapped and preserved in the asphalt for the past 50,000 years.

For scientists, they are a treasure trove of priceless, unique information that allows us to better understand what ancient life was like in present-day Los Angeles.

“The kind of science you can do at the La Brea Tar Pits is something you can’t do at any other paleontological site in the world because we have so many fossils and they’re so well preserved,” said Emily Lindsey, associate curator and director of excavations.

More than 3.5 million fossils were found in the smell, which is an interesting smell for local residents, tourists and schoolchildren.

To immediately answer Fulton’s question, there’s one thing they didn’t find in the pits: dinosaurs.

That’s right – it’s an Ice Age fossil site, and experts haven’t found any fossils. T. rextriceratops or other non-avian dinosaurs.

Although the La Brea Tar Pits have few dinosaur remains, they are full of fossils of legendary Ice Age animals. The two most commonly found large mammals? Scary monsters (shout out to everyone”Game of Thronesfans) and saber-toothed cats.

A woman looks at an exhibit of fossils at The La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles

Columbian mammoths and mastodons once called Los Angeles home. Today, their remains can be seen at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Despite the opinion of scientists supporting findingssecrets keep swirling in leaky holes.

Sometimes, Lindsey, what scientists say don’t do it as fascinating as the bones and other objects they find in tar pits.

Lindsey described the puzzles posed by the tar pits that had to be solved.

Here are three of the most attractive:

Why are the remains of some native species, such as mountain lions, extinct in tar pits?

A strange thing: scientists have discovered relatively few remains of mountain lions in tar pits.

The P-22’s Hollywood celebrity status after all, it might seem strange to worry about the lack of some mountain lion fossils after tar pits have revealed the remains of extinct mammoths, dire wolves, and giant ground sloths.

Still, it’s strange that Ice Age mountain lions in the Los Angeles area make up such a small percentage of what scientists have found in the tar pits. The tar pits contain the remains of at least seven different mountain lions, and its saber-toothed cats number between 2,500 and 3,000.

And not only mountain lions disappear in tar pits.

“We have very few mountain lions, very few deer … and only one raccoon,” he said. Other coyotesscientists found “very few of these [large mammal] ‘Survivors of the Ice Age’, that’s an interesting thing.

Why can mountain lions disappear in tar pits?

The answer could help scientists better describe what life was like in prehistoric Los Angeles.

Lindsey and her colleagues have a few ideas. Among other potential explanations, it could be that — as their name suggests — mountain lions have always preferred to be in the highlands, rather than the flatter areas of present-day Los Angeles near the tar pits.

Or maybe mountain lions were afraid of hunting in the same areas as saber-toothed cats. “A mountain lion looks like a domestic cat next to a saber-toothed cat – [it’s possible] they wanted to stay away and not be around all these big scary things.”

Where is the evidence of human life?

Mountain lions, raccoons and deer aren’t the only mammals missing from tar pits. There is also a noticeable lack of human remains.

People were here, but why do we find no evidence of them in the La Brea Tar Pits? Lindsey asked. “We have a human skeleton, and then we have some artifacts that probably all date back to the Holocene[our current geological period]but we have no evidence that humans overlapped or interacted with the megafauna through hunting.”

This is surprising because “many—perhaps most—scientists think that human activity is the primary cause of megafauna extinction,” Lindsey explains.

Like mountain lions, Lindsey notes, the absence of ancient humans may indicate their reluctance to hunt nearby saber-toothed cats and other dangerous animals.

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

People watch a demonstration in the Fossil Lab at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

“Maybe the culture here was adapted to the coast and didn’t require courage, like a pack of ferocious wolves to hunt horses or camels. They could stay close to the coast,” he said. and choose shellfish.

Why did large mammals begin to disappear and what does this tell us about our future?

Once upon a time, giant mammals roamed large areas of the earth.

“There were giant wombats in Australia, giant lemurs in Madagascar, giant sloths and armadillos in South America,” Lindsey said.

Why don’t we have saber-toothed cats, mammoths and giant sloths roaming Wilshire Boulevard today, asks Lindsay?

A dramatic change has occurred. “Something happened at the end of the ice age that wiped out the top of the body size distribution everywhere except Africa,” he said. “This is the largest extinction event since the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.”

The loss of the giant mammals is becoming more chillingly known as “the first pulse of the biodiversity crisis we are in today.”

Why did this blackout occur? “Most scientists think that humans must have played a very important role in this extinction. But the other thing that happened was that we came out of the Ice Age, the last big episode of global warming,” he said.

“Understanding the interrelationships between climate change and human activity, how that affects ecosystems, and how these two processes intersect to drive extinction are incredibly important.”

The La Brea tar pits are positioned to help solve the mystery of why the giant mammals went extinct because of the size and scope of their findings, which can be radiocarbon dated and matched with known changes that occurred concurrently with humans and climate. .

Two men kneel on the ground carefully digging for fossils

Two volunteers dig for fossils in the La Brea tar pits. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

On the other side of the coin, 90% of species found in tar pits are not extinct. “Our record includes tons of rabbits, rodents, lizards, insects and songbirds that still live in the LA area today,” Lindsey said via email.

“We have a record of survival and endurance,” he said, which raises several questions. “What made mountain lions successful? What made the coyotes so successful? What made the oak trees successful?”

ace climate crisis If it gets worse today, the answers to these mysteries may point the way for the future.

“The next few decades to a few centuries will really be one of extreme global change,” Lindsey said. “How can we use this information to help life succeed in the future?”

This existential question should give you something to think about the next time you pass the Tar Pits’ iconic (and heartwarming) work. mammoth statues Off Wilshire Blvd.

This story was written in direct response to a reader’s question about the La Brea Tar Pits. Have a question about life in Los Angeles or California? Ask us!

This story appeared first Los Angeles Times.

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