La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is situated in Los Angeles, Southern California. Consisting of a group of tar pits, a lake pit, and museum, the site features ongoing excavations that can be viewed in the pits as well as numerous ancient fossils and bones displayed in the museum from these finds. Considered a site of historic interest, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum displays findings from long ago, including bones and fossils from hundreds of species. Over one million fossils have been discovered at the Tar Pits, with each find taken to the Fossil Lab for study before being catalogued. Complete with an observation pit, the Fossil Lab, an outside park, the Pleistocene Garden, and the museum, this National Natural Landmark is open to the public for tours, self-guided tours, educational programs, and events.



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Exhibits and attractions

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum has been open since 1977 and displays fossils and bones, including many complete reconstructions of animal skeletons from the tar pit excavations. Home to a range of temporary and permanent exhibitions, the museum provides information on the Ice Age through multimedia and interactive displays.

The permanent exhibitions feature specific species that have been discovered in the pits. The Bison Exhibit displays the skeleton of the ancient bison and, along with information on the bison’s seasonal migration to the Los Angeles Basin, this exhibit showcases specimens from young bison to adults. The Camel Exhibition features examples of two extinct species of camel, including a skeleton of the 7-foot Camelops hesternus. The Condor Exhibit displays bones and skeletons of the now-extinct largest bird of prey, which once existed in North America. The Coyote Exhibit provides information and a reconstructed skeleton of the prehistoric coyote, which was slightly bigger than the coyote species alive today. The Dire Wolf Exhibit showcases 400 skulls of the now-extinct dire wolf species. This species was one of the more common found in the area at the time and is often found in the pits. The Ground Sloth Exhibit uses information and bones found in the tar pits to show how they may have appeared. Having migrated from North America to South America, the ground sloth is the most commonly found of all sloths at the pits. Further exhibits with skeletons, bones, fossils, and information displays are the Horse Exhibit, the Mammoth Exhibit, and the Smilodon Exhibit, which showcases saber-toothed cats.

The Observation Pit was designed by Harry Sims Bent and was opened to the public in 1954. Containing real bones of dire wolves, ground sloths, and saber-toothed cats, it is also home to the Fossil Lab. The Fossil Lab allows visitors to witness live paleontology, whereby scientists clean, catalogue, sort, and track the findings that are brought to them. The intricate system can be viewed through the glass walls encasing the lab. The Observation Pit is included in the programs at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum as well as the Excavator Tour.

Based on 35 years of research, scientists at the pits have recreated the landscape and habitat of the Los Angeles Basin from prehistoric times. Situated in Hancock Park, the Pleistocene Garden has been designed using the results of botanical research and discoveries found in Pit 91 on site. With construction beginning in 2004, the gardens were divided into four ecosystems based on the original plant life found in the area, such as sage, pine, and buckwheat. Named Coastal Sage, Riparian, Deep Canyon and Chaparral, these separate ecological systems present plant life, such as creek dogwood, California buckwheat, white sage, and western elderberry. The outside area is also home to a large atrium.

Ongoing programs and education

The museum offers a performance program in the form of multimedia-style shows, including a live performance, film projections, and an adult saber-toothed cat puppet that brings the history of the Ice Age to life. The Ice Age Encounters show lasts 15 minutes and is offered several times a week. The museum also has a program of free museum days and is part of the SoCal Museums Free for All program. The museum and other facilities are open to educators intending to conduct field trips here. Organized with the school programs team at the museum, field trips can include add-ons such as the guided program, whereby school groups can see the exhibits, Observation Pit, performances, and shows.

5801 Wilshire Bvld, Los Angeles, CA 90036, Phone: 213-763-3499

Back to: Southern California

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