Saturday, December 24, 2016

Spending Afternoon In The Late Pleistocene Epoch

The UC Museum of Paleontology gives the dates of the Pleistocene as 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago and says the La Brea Tar Pits is "one of most famous Pleistocene fossil localities anywhere."

The tar pits is one of my good childhood memories.  Before the LA County Museum of Art was there.  Before the Page Museum was there, it was just a big park with giant, climbable  statues of the long extinct big mammals that lived then - mammoths, mastodons, saber tooth tigers, and giant sloths.  And there were live rabbits hopping about the park.  And, of course, the scattered pools of tar that entrapped so many of the animals.

So it seemed a good place to go with our granddaughter and we spent the whole afternoon there.

We took the tour, and the guide - he was really good - took on some of the myths and misnomers surrounding the tar pits.  First, they were really asphalt* pits.  Tar, he said, is man made.  Second, the animals who got stuck in the pools, didn't get sucked down like in quicksand, but tended to stay on the surface and die of hunger or thirst or from predators.  And this iconic set of mastodons is a little more Hollywood than real.

The animals at the tar pits are from the late Pleistocene era - 10,000 - 50,000 years ago.  So, no dinosaurs.  Just animals that lived when humans were around.  And whether these large mammals went extinct because the Ice Age ended or people got better at killing them or diseases is still in debate.

The museum offered lots of examples of fossils from the era and simulated versions the many of the animals and birds.  There are also people actively sorting through bones still today.

This woman (and two others) were sorting through material with paint brushes and magnifying glasses and microscopes to separate non-fossils from fossils.  The collect fossil insect parts and even plant seeds.

The building itself is mostly underground, with grass slopes built up around it.  My granddaughter had fun 'jumping off' the roof, the running down the sides and back up again.   (The 'roof' is actually that whitish wall, not the top grey facade which has a frieze depicting animals of the period.)  As you can see if you look carefully, it had rained heavily the night before, and as you can't see, it would rain again that night.

Click on any of the images to enlarge and sharpen them

Altogether a good afternoon for the oldsters and the youngster.  

*for a distinction between tar and asphalt, check here.
For a long and interesting pdf on asphalt, check here.

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