Photo courtesy the Page Museum at the La Brea Tarpits
Sure, we got a diverse wildlife palette here in present day Southern California, but at one point in time; say about 40,000 years ago, this region was a mecca of thriving beasties with curvy claws, hairy humpsand scary wicked dental appendages.
Don’t call ‘em dinosaurs…they are Ice Age creatures, way distant cousins of the terrible lizards, and they are causing quite a stir with scientists at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. Scientists there are giddier than usual these days, thanks to what they are currently discovering from Project 23 – and these specimens are making paleontologists swoon with delight.
(Backstory: Project 23 consists of subterranean fossils deposits that were discovered when nearby LACMA was digging for a new underground parking structure. Boxes were built around each deposit — 23 in all — and brought to the surface.)
Now as scientists open and dig into the content of these boxes, they are experiencing Christmas, Hanukkah and birthdays everyday. What they are finding is mouth-dropping good, good, good – about 16,000 fossils and 80 species of animals and plants, according to John Harris, chief curator at the Page. “And some things we have never seen before.”
What are some of those previously unseen beasts? Well, first off, there’s Ned, the nearly complete skeleton of an adult Columbian mammoth that is in the process of excavation at the Page’s fishbowl observation lab. Currently, his giant skull – with some hefty molars – is being cleaned while nearby a huge tusk – which will be the biggest one the museum has ever seen – sits encased waiting to see the light of day.
Other discoveries include: ancient camel, Naegele’s giant jaguar (nicknamed Fluffy by the staff and one of the biggest cats in North America at the time), a juvenile mastodon and a long-tailed weasel among six saber-toothed kittens.
In addition, pounds of mirco-fossils are being excavated along with the big bones. According to Lab Supervisor Shelley Cox, excavators are finding lizard jaws, rabbit teeth, snake and mice bones and bird fossils along with seeds, trees and other plant materials. “These mirco-fossils are valuable to study since they give us a better snapshot of the environment at that time,” she says.
Because, we all know that Zed didn’t know how to work his digital camera back then. He was all tusks.
Check out Project 23’s daily scrapings at http://excavatrix.blogspot.com.
— Brenda Rees, editor