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La Brea Tar Pits discover over 16K fossils

March 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
These are exciting times at the La Brea Tar Pits.

More fossils have been found of animals that lived in Los Angeles tens of thousands of years ago, including sloths, mammoths, and saber-toothed kittens.

What they're painstakingly digging up, is what used to roam around L.A. 20,000 years ago. And what looks like a large clump of clay, is actually a cluster of bones.

"What we have is a saber-tooth cat jaw," said Michelle Tabencki from the La Brea Tar Pits. "This is a tibia from baby saber-tooth cat. We have a skull and teeth from a dire wolf, a horse pelvis fused together."

If it wasn't for the expansion of the parking structure, they would have never discovered the bones of a mastodon, or the litter of saber-tooth tigers

"We've recovered more than 16,000 fossils representing more than 80 species of animals and plants," said Dr. John Harris from the La Brea Tar Pits. "That isn't a total number yet because we still have to process the matrix that you can see in metal cans around the compound."

What is really cool about this is now they are learning more about what was roaming around here 20,000 years ago. Instead of finding individual bones, they are now finding whole skeletons of animals.

"It's hard to imagine mammoths, and mastodons, and saber-tooth cats, and camels and horses wandering around this area," said Laura Tewksbury from the La Brea Tar Pits. "I mean we're in Hancock Park. It's downstairs from Beverly Hills. And yet there are all of these animals here tens of thousands of years ago before we were here."

One member of the excavation team told me what's been exciting about all of this is that one cluster of bones always leads to another cluster for them to study and marvel at.