Rancho La Brea

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Main pit at Rancho La Brea, with George C. Page Museum in the background

Rancho La Brea (Spanish: the tar ranch), part of Hancock Park in central Los Angeles, California, and world-famous for the tar pits which trapped thousands of prehistoric mammals.

Originally discovered in 1769 by Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolá, Rancho La Brea was referred to as “pitch springs”, i.e. a place to collect pitch for use as a waterproofing agent. Subsequent archaeological and paleontological research would determine that Native Americans had also used the site for the same reasons prior to the Spanish arrival. In the later-19th century oil would also be retrieved as well, and magnate G. Allen Hancock would in 1916 give 23 acres of his property to Los Angeles County, which comprises the park named for him.

Since 1900 the remains of thousands of animals representing some 67 species have been recovered from the pits, among them over 2,000 sabre-toothed cats (Smilodon fatalis) and 3,000 dire wolves (Canis dirus). The finds represent a cross-section of prehistoric life in the area, and scientists speculate that the nature of the tar pits was such that they would appear to be a waterhole, trapping the herbivores which entered them, as well as the carnivores (some 90% of the finds were of carnivores) which scavenged on the remains.

The George C. Page Museum [1] sits in the center of the park, displaying some of the recovered remains. Nearby is an actual tar pit, with a figure of a trapped imperial mammoth; the pit itself is fenced off for safety reasons.

Contents

Extinct animals recovered

Camelids

  • American camel (Camelops hesterus)
  • Stilt-legged llama (Hemiauchenia macrophala)

Ground sloths

  • Harlan's ground sloth (Paramylodon harlani)
  • Jefferson’s ground sloth (Megalonyx jeffersoni)
  • Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis)

Elephants

  • American mastodon (Mammut americanum)
  • Imperial mammoth (Mammuthus imperator)
  • Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi)

Ungulates

  • California tapir (Tapirus californicus)
  • Giant bison (Bison antiquus)
  • Mexican horse (Equus conversidens)
  • Tar-pit pronghorn (Capromeryx minor)
  • Peccary (Platygonus compressus)

Carnivores

  • American cheetah (Miracinonyx inexpectatus)
  • American lion (Panthera leo atrox)
  • Dire wolf (Canis dirus)
  • Scimitar-toothed cat (Homotherium serum)
  • Short-faced bear (Arctodus simus)
  • Sabre-toothed cat (Smilodon fatalis)

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