This week, the La Brea Tar Pits celebrated a century of digging up Ice Age fossils, ranging from the tiny wings of beetles to a smilodon (saber-toothed cat) and even a near-complete Colombian mammoth named Zed. On Monday, the Page Museum was open to visitors for free.
In 1913, George Allan Hancock allowed Los Angeles County to excavate on his land, a Mexican land grant called Rancho La Brea, now located along LA's Miracle Mile on Wilshire Boulevard. Hancock recognized the importance of the asphalt deposits, which are from 10,000 to 40,000 years old, and in 1924, he donated 23 acres of the ranch to the county for preservation and display.
Builders broke ground on the foundation for the Page Museum, where the La Brea fossils are on display, in 1975, digging up an enormous collection of specimens in the process. In 2006, in while excavating for an underground parking garage, diggers found 16 more asphalt deposits containing more fossils, including Zed.
While neighbors to the pits sometimes have complaints -- on hot days, the whole area smells like a resurfaced road, and the ooze of tar pays no mind to the modern constraints of property zoning -- discoveries from the tar pits have turned downtown LA into a window into the past.