I’m not so sure that I thought this one through. Today’s post seems a little out-of-place for Easter week. If I’d been planning ahead I could have shared this recent field trip sooner, and saved beautiful spring gardens as a more appropriate Easter connection.
But here we are!
In mid-February I read an article about some exciting fossil-findings in Laguna Canyon. Archaeologists and paleontologists are required on-site for large construction projects and the decision to have scientists available was fortuitous when a highway-widening project became a treasure-finding expedition.
Hundreds of marine mammals that lived in the early-mid Miocene epoch were unearthed! .
If you like to keep track of your geological eras, that would put these creatures as having lived 17-million to 19-million years ago.
Unearthed were 30 cetacean skulls as well as other ocean dwellers, including sharks. The BIG find were four newly identified species of toothed baleen whale, formerly thought to have been extinct 5 million years earlier.
Every discovery is exciting, but one reason paleontologists are required at new digs and construction sites is because California is rich in fossil fuel, and you know what that means! Dig around and you never know what you might find.
I was impressed that a few out-of-state visitors correctly identified the photo I shared in my last post as the La Brea Tar Pits!
The life-size models of a Columbian Mammoth family stuck in the tar is for show, of course, but the site remains an active archaeological site.
It’s rather entertaining to watch the methane continue to ripple the surface of the oil-slicked water, precisely as it has been doing for millions of years.
The Tar Pits were created when gas and oil beneath the ground were expelled through fissures or vents , with enough thrust of oil to create a volcano effect. There were over twenty pools of the tar-like substance, trapping and preserving thousands of perfect skulls and nearly complete skeletons of creatures that roamed Southern California 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Spanish explorers made the first written record of the tar pits in 1769, but Union Oil geologist W.W. Orcutt was the first to recognize fossilized prehistoric animal bones preserved in the asphalt, and excavations formally began in 1913-15.
Since the early 20th century over 1,000,000 fossils have been discovered in the tar pits. The accompanying George C. Page Museum showcases the discoveries.
There is entirely too much of interest to include in one post.
I can connect history of the Mexican land grant Rancho La Brea and even a slim connection to General Patton into the story of the La Brea tar pits–it’s a slim thread, but think back to the six-degrees-of-separation and I’ll get you there!
I hope I’ve set the stage, but for a much better look at the Tar Pits I do recommend this youtube video.
Then maybe next time I will share more about what they’ve found in the pools of tar…did you know California has a State Fossil? Oh the things I’m learning!
- New Whale Species Unearthed in California Highway Dig (news.sciencemag.org)