Tuesday, October 7, 2008


As it turns out, despite being called "The Tar" tar pits, the La Brea Tar Pits contain no actual tar. For those who like trivia and didn't already know, oil is made from animal remains and tar is made from plant remains. The local "tar", aka oil or asphalt (sludgy oil mixed with aggregate), is the product of plankton. So not only do these pervasive microscopic animals feed the largest sea creatures we have left (baleen whales), but they also settled by the kazillions into the ocean bottom millions of years ago. Add pressure and time and a little tectonic action, and you get black sludge that makes a fun waterproof adhesive.

The museum is small enough to be able to take in the whole thing without total overload yet large enough to be fun and informative. We got a "walking tour" of the grounds which mostly consisted of standing under trees to get out of the 90F+ hot in direct sun while our guide yammered on about things not directly related to the scenery. The heat didn't stop someone from proclaiming, "science hasn't proved a common ancestor between dogs and cats". Um, yes, yes science has. Yes, I said so. We learned other cool things, but it would have been just as well to do so in an auditorium or around one of the excavated pits.

The cool things we learned:
  • The first tuesday of the month is free day. Fantastic coincidence, that was today.
  • Juvenile saber tooth tigers have grooves on the interior of their baby sabers to allow their adult sabers to partially grow in before they lose the baby teeth.
  • There are only 2 full time palentologists on staff, the rest are volunteers. To be a volunteer, you need to be 16 or older, ready and willing to work, and able to tolerate the smell of oil. (Almost the same criteria to be VP, apparently.)
  • There were camels in america! And horses came from here.
  • Mammoth teeth are roughly larger than my head.
  • They have enough mammoth fossils to do a frequency chart of the age of juvenile bones. They're only found in certain age ranges which are roughly a year apart, which means mammoths were migratory and only hung out in LA for a couple months a year.
  • It appears that no otters found themselves stuck.
  • Ossicles - they found these lumpy things a little bigger than raisins that were clearly fossils and yet just rounded lumpy things they couldn't place. Finally someone found a sloth in south america that had these suckers all over its skin. Apparently they grow on sloths as protective lumps and there were sloths aplenty in the pits. I'm not sure they've updated the pictures to reflect the impact of ossicles on hair growth patterns.
So J and I are going to keep saying "ossicle" a lot. But I have to work tomorrow and so does he so I'll stop doing it here for noe. He, at least, can work out of a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf before I drive him to the aeroporto.


azteclady said...

Yes, science has proven evolution.

Wish evolution was taught better at elementary school level so that people would not get hung up on the whole "I don't come from an ape" thing!

Anonymous said...

I haven't been to the La Brea Tarpits since grade school. Isn't it cool? Peterson's Automotive Museum across the street is worth checking out too.

QL (Nice VP joke)