Driving down Wilshire Boulevard one might take for granted the stranded mammoth belly-deep in a pool of bubbling tar. After all, that poor beast has been stuck in that muck for decades now, and we Angelenos hardly turn our heads and take notice!
But walking through Hancock Park toward the Page Museum La Brea Tar Pits the other day, I couldn’t help but find my curiosity piqued. What was that giant box behind the cyclone fence, just past the scores of athletic people doing “Boot Camp” on the grass? It seemed to be two stories tall, lit from inside, and voices were drifting out from within. A sign named the entire enclosure Project 23. It sounded and looked like an episode from Fringe.
But it’s no fantasy at the Tar Pits: some pretty extraordinary things are happening right here on Wilshire Blvd. When they dug the underground parking structure for the new wing of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) they unearthed enough tar-covered gunk to fill 23 crates (thus the name) full of ground sloths, dire wolves, saber-tooth cats, horses, bison and birds. Not to mention ZED, the remains of a single, individual Columbian mammoth – perfectly preserved by the asphalt that sucked the life out of him at about age 50, some 30,000-40,000 years ago. ZED is very significant as a research specimen since his 10 foot tusks, broad torso and skull – almost 80% of his entire body in fact – have been found and carefully excavated for the folks at the museum to study and reassemble.
If you journey down into the depths of the museum and look into the “fishbowl” you can see the giant bones, partially revealed from their tar and plaster jackets, as well as the crew of paleontologists and volunteers dusting away.
It makes you want to to get in there and get your own hands dirty. And that’s what’s even more surprising – you can! The Page Museum uses volunteers to clean, categorize and rebuild the ancient creatures that have been unearthed. Anyone 16 and older may apply, if you promise to work a minimum of 8 hours/week for at least 96 hours of time. It’s such a great gig that one volunteer, Harry (photo below) has been coming back for 24 years now. Call Shelley Cox at (323) 857 6318 if you are serious about volunteering in the Laboratory or Excavation site.
It may be the perfect way to really get to know your neighborhood, from bottom-up, and inside-out. You can only do something this cool, right here in the heart of LA.
About Julie Grist
Julie co-founded the Larchmont Buzz with fellow buzzer Mary Hawley in 2011 and served as Editor, Publisher and writer for the hive for many years until the sale of the Buzz in August 2015. She is still circling the hive as an occasional writer.
2 thoughts on “You Too Can Be A Paleontologist”
The NY Times Science section did a piece on the La Brea Tar Pits on January 23rd, 2012: “Preserved in Tar, Relics From Long Before Freeways” see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/science/at-la-brea-tar-pits-relics-from-long-before-freeways.html?_r=1&ref=science.