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Researchers Unearth Massive Fossil Cache In LA

February 18, 2009

In Los Angeles, scientists are studying the largest known cache of fossils from the ice age.

Researchers from the George C. Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits expect the cache to double the size of the museum’s ice age collection, which is currently the world’s largest, according to the LA Times.

Since 1906, more than one million bones have been found at the historic site.

Scientists have already reported the discovery of a skull of an American lion and bones of saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, bison, horses, ground sloths and the skeleton of a mammoth, named Zed, said to be near intact.

Zed is said to be 80 percent complete. Researchers said he had arthritic joints and several broken and re-healed ribs.

“It’s looking more and more as if Zed lived a pretty rough life,” research member Andie Thomer wrote in a December blog post.

Researchers are also excited to study the smaller fossilized items in the region, including tree trunks, turtles, snails, clams, millipedes, fish, gophers and even mats of oak leaves.

“This gives us the opportunity to get a detailed picture of what life was like 10,000 to 40,000 years ago” in the Los Angeles Basin, John Harris, chief curator at the Page, told the LA Times. The find will make the museum “the major library of life in the Pleistocene ice age,” he said.

The site was previously home to a two-story parking garage, owned by May Co. department store. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art razed the building in order to build an underground parking facility.

With an upcoming deadline to begin building the parking garage, researchers were forced to act fast. They boxed up he deposits and lifted them out of the ground using a massive crane, in a process research member Thomer referred to as “a paleontological Christmas,” in a July blog post cited by the AP.

“We designed a crate so that we could take out the entire deposit without disturbing it so that, at a later date, you could do a proper excavation as you would if it were still in the ground,” said Robin Turner, founder of ArchaeoPaleo Resource Management Inc. of Culver City.

Overall, researchers excavated 23 boxes from the site, thus earning the name “Project 23.” The largest one weighed 123,000 pounds, the LA Times reported.

“I knew we would find fossils…but I never expected to find so many deposits,” Turner said. “There was an absolutely remarkable quantity and quality,” Turner said.

Image Caption: The Tar Pits in 1910; note the oil derricks in the background.

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