A Mammoth (or Mastodon) Discovery at Wilshire and La Brea
December 1, 2016 2:52 PM   Subscribe

LA Times: Remains of ancient elephant unearthed at L.A. subway excavation site "The first discovery, made just before Thanksgiving, was of a 3-foot section of tusk fragments, as well as fragments of a mastodon tooth, found at a depth of 15 feet at the Wilshire and La Brea excavation site, said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero.

"Late afternoon Monday, a paleontological monitor hired to look out for bones and fossils came across a partial skull and tusks, believed to belong to an ancient elephant, Sotero said. The second discovery was made within about 10 feet of the first.

"The mammal fossils that were found are at least 10,000 years old and are from the ice age, Sotero said. Further analysis of the teeth will help paleontologists identify what type of ancient elephant it was, Sotero said."
posted by Celsius1414 (28 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Speaking of mammoths, I learned this fact recently which kind of blew my mind:
The final resting place of woolly mammoths was Wrangel Island in the Arctic. Although, most of the woolly mammoth population died out by 10,000 years ago, a small population of 500-1000 woolly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island until 1650 BC. That’s only about 4,000 years ago! For context, Egyptian pharoahs were midway through their empire and it was about 1000 years after the Giza pyramids were built. The reason for the demise of these woolly mammoths are unknown. (Source)
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:58 PM on December 1, 2016 [26 favorites]


Zero surprise to me; I haven't visited that part of L.A. in umpteen years, but if you say "LaBrea" to me, I say "TAR PITS". Heck, way back in the early '80s I had a semi-romantic lunch date that consisted of eating In-N-Out burgers on a bench in-between the Tar Pits and the County Museum of Art.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:13 PM on December 1, 2016 [9 favorites]


Yeah, me too: I'm a native Angeleno and totally loved the La Brea Tar Pits as a kid. Makes sense that there would be more mastodons lying about.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:19 PM on December 1, 2016


This is happening about a five minute walk from The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum.

The article kinda mentions it, but fossils are constantly found when any sort of development happens in that area. I remember huge blocks of fossil-filled tar being excavated when the BMW dealership on Wilshire was razed.

It's going to be super interesting how they excavate the subway station on Fairfax, right down the street. I know that tar often just pours into the basements of the buildings in the area. It's going to take some engineering to keep that tar from getting into the station.
posted by sideshow at 3:19 PM on December 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


I would just like to point out that being a "paleontological monitor" is a career choice that I did not know was available.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:28 PM on December 1, 2016 [16 favorites]


Subways AND fossils? You, sir, have made my children's week.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:39 PM on December 1, 2016 [14 favorites]


Mine too!

And by mine, I mean me. My week. :D
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:42 PM on December 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


I think it's seen as notable because most people might presume that a place as populous as LA would've already been dug and picked over thoroughly already.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:52 PM on December 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is obviously going to end with it rampaging through the city. I hope they've contacted Jeff Goldblum or Tommy Lee Jones or somebody like that, pre-emptively.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 3:57 PM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


“This is significant; it’s the very first mammal fossils that have been found on the Purple Line extension project,”

I am recalibrating my concept of significance.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:06 PM on December 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


So is this just a tie-in to the next sequel to "Caifornia Bones" by Greg van Eekout?
posted by wenestvedt at 4:38 PM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


t's going to be super interesting how they excavate the subway station on Fairfax, right down the street. I know that tar often just pours into the basements of the buildings in the area. It's going to take some engineering to keep that tar from getting into the station.

I know someone who used to live in that neighborhood right off Fairfax. One day while they were living there, their neighbor walked outside to find their yard covered in tar that had seeped up from the ground. To try to rectify this sticky problem, the neighbor announced they were going to call the Tar Pits museum, and ask them what they planned to do about it, assuming they must somehow be responsible.

I imagine the neighbor ended up getting a short lesson on the geological makeup of Los Angeles, free of charge.
posted by joechip at 4:49 PM on December 1, 2016 [7 favorites]


As I looked at the picture, I thought, oh look--no tar. No stink makes the fossil 100% more pleasant to work with.

The first time I visited the Page museum was back when Buffy was still on and visiting Buffy shooting sites was a major sub-theme of the trip. So, I got a laugh walking up to the place, as I recognized it from some scene on the show with the newly chipped Spike. LACMA was an even better surprise, what a fantastic museum.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:12 PM on December 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


They even found the penis of the wooly mammoth, which experts call the "mastodong".
posted by dr_dank at 6:51 PM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


dr_dank, mastodon't.
posted by Guy Smiley at 7:43 PM on December 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


Very cool, my kids and I stopped by the Pits after checking out Del Toro''s exhibit at LACMA, the day AFTER Thanksgiving. And I'm certain my 17 year old would like me to point out that there is no tar in the Pits. It's asphalt.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:57 PM on December 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


That's fuckin' bullshit.
posted by rhizome at 9:43 PM on December 1, 2016


One day while they were living there, their neighbor walked outside to find their yard covered in tar that had seeped up from the ground. To try to rectify this sticky problem, the neighbor announced they were going to call the Tar Pits museum, and ask them what they planned to do about it, assuming they must somehow be responsible.

Oh wow, I have often heard this story from the other side. And yes, sweet, sweet asphalt, just bubbling up to say hi! It's pretty exciting that the tusks were preserved, because tusks do not do well in asphalt. (It will be even more exciting when the excavation hits the Fairfax intersection because the excavation for LACMA's parking lot is yielding everything from spider heads in matrix like this to Zed the Columbian (not woolly!) mammoth.) LA has one of the most incredible Ice Age fossil sites in the world, and the park is free for everyone- thanks, Hancock family and science.

(also I think it's kind of hilarious the name is, technically, The the Tar Tar Pits, especially since there is no tar, but you can always go with a historic approach: DEATH TRAP OF THE AGES or Los Volcanes de Brea, anyone? Death Trap of the Ages, also a good code name for rush hour traffic on Wilshire...)
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:59 PM on December 1, 2016 [6 favorites]


I freaking adore the Tar Pits. We used to go all the time as a kid, and even now, when we went back to visit (mostly for the Del Toro exhibit at LACMA), I insisted that we hang out at the Tar Pits for a bit, just to enjoy the fossils and the digs and the giant concrete sloths.

I just wish they had more giant sloth things in the gift shop. I have a sabertooth tiger, who is lovely, but, man, I love me some giant sloths.

(I also really love how they've just run with the dire wolf thing.)
posted by Katemonkey at 6:49 AM on December 2, 2016


Yay! Now I just want a book about a live mastadon train driver or something: "They found a mastadon working on the subway."
posted by dame at 7:01 AM on December 2, 2016


I only ever heard about the La Brea Tar Pits in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon and figured it was some old-timey thing in California like the Brown Derby. I had no idea it was still a real thing.
posted by briank at 7:08 AM on December 2, 2016


The reason for the demise of these woolly mammoths are unknown

There's some recent research on this, one of which suggested the St Paul Island ones eroded their waterhole to uselessness and died of thirst about 5,500 years ago - it's a tiny island and possibly only one source of fresh water. PNAS

A 2015 study showed the Wrangell Island ones suffered two population crashes and bottlenecks, and became severely inbred, but the proximal cause of extinction is still unknown, probably multi-factorial.
posted by Rumple at 9:53 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I haven't visited that part of L.A. in umpteen years, but if you say "LaBrea" to me, I say "TAR PITS".

Bless you, oneswellfoop. I was introduced to Forbidden Zone in college, long before I lived in LA, and when I moved there I remember the day that it dawned on me "HOLY SHIT THERE IS ACTUALLY A PICO AND SEPULVEDA!" I lived on Pico in Santa Monica for four years. Every time I'd write, type, or give my address, it always came along with the song starting up in my mind (via Forbidden Zone).

It's also how I knew how to pronounce "Doheny" before ever going to West Hollywood.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:39 AM on December 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is awesome. I had no idea that La Brea was so close to LA, for some reason I thought it was a fair way out.
Hmmm.... I have a flight with a several hour layover in LAX in a couple of weeks - now thinking about the possibility of a quick trip out there. Any LA locals want to weigh in on whether that's a completely crazy idea?
posted by une_heure_pleine at 10:11 AM on December 3, 2016


Going over a couple of these prior posts to give new info -
Wrangell Island mammoths - We had pygmy mammoths on the Channel Islands too! Santa Barbara Museum has a display and they were tiny by the end :)

Being a paleontological monitor IS fun; especially when you find rockin' fossils like that baby's skull!

I think it's seen as notable because most people might presume that a place as populous as LA would've already been dug and picked over thoroughly already. - The surface and building footprints, yes, but sewers only go~ 10'deep and they're not that big. Everything else is fair game and parking garages are always awesome!

It's pretty exciting that the tusks were preserved, because tusks do not do well in asphalt. - Yep - It's because of "pit wear". Even though it's slow and eventually will harden, asphalt is still fluid so bones grind against other bones and rocks fore centuries. Needless to say the bigger bones don't do well. Fairfax may or may not have a classic La Brea type deposit since the spine xof the anticline (the fold crease) goes from NW to SE through the park and most of the productive pits are in there. At the LACMA garage Zed was in river deposits like these fossils & later some bones were saturated with asphalt. That's why he's in such good shape - he was buried quickly and after he was buried for a while some asphalt came in but not enough to start moving him around & wearing the bones. The exceptional stuff like the insects came from the 23 La Brea type deposits found in the parking lot that are now being worked on next to Pit 91 (BTW, they're ALWAYS looking for a few good volunteers)! Ahhh, the smell of asphalt in the morning... it smells like fossils!

Significance - More important than the skull being an elephant, it's a baby. Not uncommon to find babies or young animals of species that live for a year or 2, but elephants live for decades. So weather the skull is a mastodon or a mammoth, that's still a much smaller fraction of the animal's life. Plus baby bones are a little more delicate than adults since they're still growing. Listen here: http://www.scpr.org/programs/take-two/2016/12/04/53444/los-angeles-is-ripe-territory-for-finding-fossils/


The reason for the demise of mammoths are still unknown. Yeah... still not sure what did it. (I) Blitzkrieg is just 1960's silliness - there is no way that Native American's ran down the continent, killing everything in sight for fun - That's what the Europeans did. 1) Killing big animals with spears & arrows is tough! 2) They're wives would FREAK "Damn-it Bob! What are we going to eat next year!?" 3) We just don't have a lot of sites where Native American tools or obvious butchering are linked with megafauna. (II) Hyperdisease is silly too. Every large mammal died out over several Orders (sloths, carnivores, proboscidians, horses, & the artiodactyls except for the modern Bison, elk, and moose) but we still have the smaller types, wolves and coyotes that are in the same genus as dire wolves, bears, cats, deer, llama, etc. (III) Not to get into it, but no one really puts any weight into the comet idea. Nano diamonds are falling all the time and get concentrated in the "black mats".

For St Paul's & Wrangell island extinctions, they're isolated from the mainland so things work a little differently. It's easier to go extinct with limited resources.

For visiting the tar pits on a layover it depends on the time & day. The museum is pretty small & you can get through it & the park in a couple of hours. Getting into and out of LAX can be a nightmare especially around the holidays or if there's any traffic. Plus the joys of security.... You might want just to book a trip & stay for a few days in a cool month like February. :)
posted by scrat at 7:55 PM on December 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Welcome to MetaFilter, scrat.
posted by Rumple at 8:06 PM on December 4, 2016


Regarding a daytrip during an LA layover, I'd def say: if you have less than five hours (six if it's a weekend) I'd say don't bother trying to jet over to the Tar Pits. You gotta budget 2-2.5 hours for traveling there and back, not to mention security getting back in. Traffic in the Tar Pits/LACMA/Grove area can be really bad even by LA standards, especially on weekends.

Unfortunately, until they finish building that metro extension to the airport, getting into and out of LAX will continue to be a big pain in the butt.
posted by joechip at 11:01 AM on December 5, 2016




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