What are the LaBrea Tar Pits?

The tar pits are located in an area of Los Angeles, California, formerly known as Rancho LaBrea. Heavy, sticky tar oozed out of the earth there, the scum from great petroleum reservoirs far underground. The pools were cruel traps for uncounted numbers of animals. Today, the tar pits are a part of Hancock Park, where many fossil remains are displayed along with life-sized reconstructions of these prehistoric species.

The tar pits were first recognized as a fossil site in 1875. However, scientists did not systematically excavate the area until 1901. By comparing Rancho LaBrea’s fossil specimens with their nearest living relatives, paleontologists have a greater understanding of the climate, vegetation, and animal life in the area during the Ice Age. Perhaps the most impressive fossil bones recovered belong to such large extinct mammals as the imperial mammoth and the saber-toothed cat. Paleontologists have even found the remains of the western horse and the camel, which originated in North America, migrated to other parts of the world, and became extinct in North America at the end of the Ice Age.


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