La Brea Tar Pits reopen to public

"When people come here, they can see what the excavators see," said John Harris.
By Brooks Hays  |  June 20, 2014 at 4:36 PM
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LOS ANGELES, June 20 (UPI) -- An exhibition hall at the La Brea Tar Pits -- where the visitors could watch paleontologists unearth ancient creatures in real time -- has been closed for more than two decades.

But officials at the Page Museum that oversees some of the most fertile portions of Los Angeles's tar pits are reopening an excavation site known as Pit 91. Museum patrons will once again be able to watch scientists carefully dig up the bones of saber-toothed cats, mastodons and mammoths.

"When people come here, they can see what the excavators see, they can see the fossils as they occur in the ground," said John Harris, chief curator of the La Brea Tar Pits and Page Museum.

The expansive tar pits -- which span much of the city, both underground and near the surface -- were formed as petroleum from now-dry oil fields slowly oozed the the surface, creating massive bogs that trapped and preserved animal remains.

The natural occurring asphalt's seemingly endless supply of fossils has been tapped by scientists, as well as amateur collectors, for well over a century. Between 1913 and 1915, Los Angeles Museum excavated 96 sites, producing some 750,000 specimens of plants and animals. Since then, some 5 million more fossils have been found on the 23-acre property.

The majority of the fossils are from the Pleistocene Era, the last ice age. And some of the fossils are 50,000 years old -- and worth a lot of money. The museum closed the pits because it lacked the resources to properly secure such valuable resources.

"On the open market now, the saber tooth cat skull fetches around $250,000. So we can only open this pit up when we have the resources to look after it and make sure the fossils are safe guarded," Harris said.

Public excavations will resume at the Observation Pit and Pit 91 on June 28th.

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