SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

The Nation

March 9, 2011

Scientists dig for Ice Age fossils in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — With a dental pick in hand, Karin Rice delicately scraped off a clump of asphalt from a pelvic bone belonging to a horse that roamed Los Angeles tens of thousands of years ago.

Like many unsuspecting creatures of the last Ice Age, the horse probably stopped to take a sip of spring water only to be ensnared — and later preserved — in a pool of sticky asphalt that seeped from underground crude oil deposits.

"You're opening up this ancient world and getting to look back in time," Rice said during a recent dig at the La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles.

For the past three years, scientists have been sifting through a significant trove of bones and a nearly intact mammoth skeleton discovered in 2006 during the construction of an underground garage next to the tar pits.

It's been slow going. To make room for the parking structure, researchers at the George C. Page Museum built wooden crates to house the cache and trucked them to the tar pits complex where excavators use power and hand tools to break up the soil.

Careful to avoid the mistakes of early diggers who only prized large mammals bones and little else, a small army of museum employees and volunteers painstakingly chisels away seven days a week, recovering not only animal bones, but also saving the dirt for later inspection for microfossils.

So far, scientists have unearthed five of the 23 boxed deposits, removing some 16,000 fossil bones. Among the finds: partial skulls and lower jaws of half a dozen saber-toothed kittens, several ribs and skull of a camel, and assorted remains of a giant jaguar, ground sloth and baby mammoths.

While visitors are wowed by the larger fossils, scientists are equally interested in finding bits of plants, insects, rodents and microscopic organisms that can reveal a great deal about the past environment, said Page Museum chief curator John Harris.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
The Nation

AP Video
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Jury Awards Ventura $1.8M in Defamation Case Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando Raw: NH Man Held on $1M in Teen's Kidnapping New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Senate Confirms McDonald As VA Secretary Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Fish Oil Plant Blast Kills One Two Huge Fires Burning in Northern California Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Suspect Dead, Marshals and Cop Wounded in NYC Judge OKs Record-setting $2B Sale of Clipper
NDN Video
Weird 'Wakudoki' Dance Launches Promotional Competition Two women barely avoid being hit by train Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening Chapter Two: Designing for Naomi Watts NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob Golden Sisters on '50 Shades' trailer: 'Look At That Chest!' Staten Island Man's Emotional Dunk Over NYPD Car - @TheBuzzeronFOX GMA: Dog passes out from excitment to see owner Baseball Hall of Famers Inducted 'Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Sneak Peek Florida Keys Webcam Captures Turtles Hatching Morgan Freeman Sucks Down Helium on 'Tonight Show' Robin Wright Can Dance! (WATCH) She's Back! See Paris Hilton's New Carl's Jr. Ad Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth