Final yr, we started inviting readers to ship us their urgent questions about Los Angeles and California.
Each few weeks, we put the inquiries to a vote, asking readers to determine which query they wish to see answered in story type.
This query, posed by Ricky Fulton, was included in certainly one of our newest reader polls: What are the La Brea Tar Pits? Is it a bunch of effervescent tar with dinosaur bones protruding?
You possibly can vote in our subsequent reader query ballot right here. Make amends for earlier tales written as a part of this mission right here.
There’s greater than meets the attention — and nostril — on the La Brea Tar Pits.
For individuals who don’t know, the La Brea Tar Pits is an internationally acknowledged geological heritage web site, positioned in the midst of Los Angeles. The positioning is understood for its many fossil quarries (known as “pits”), the place animals, vegetation and bugs have gotten caught and preserved in asphalt over the past 50,000 years.
To scientists, they’re a priceless, distinctive treasure trove of knowledge that permits us to higher perceive what historic life was like in present-day Los Angeles.
“The kind of science that you are able to do at La Brea Tar Pits is stuff that you could’t actually do it different another paleontological web site on the earth, simply because we have now so many fossils, they usually’re so nicely preserved,” stated Emily Lindsey, affiliate curator and excavation web site director.
Inside the odorous goo — a curiosity for locals, vacationers and schoolchildren on area journeys — greater than 3.5 million fossils have been found.
To reply Fulton’s query proper off the bat, right here’s one factor they haven’t discovered within the pits: dinosaurs.
That’s proper — that is an Ice Age fossil web site, and specialists haven’t uncovered any stays of T. rexes, triceratops or different non-avian dinosaurs.
Whereas the La Brea Tar Pits are brief on dinosaur fossils, they’re chock stuffed with fossils from legendary Ice Age animals. The 2 mostly discovered massive mammals? Dire wolves (shout out to all of the “Recreation of Thrones” followers) and saber-toothed cats.
Regardless of the scientists’ groundbreaking findings, mysteries proceed to swirl within the oozing pits.
Generally, Lindsey stated, the issues that scientists don’t discover within the tar pits fascinate as a lot because the bones and different gadgets they uncover.
Lindsey described puzzles posed by the tar pits that stay to be solved.
Listed here are three of probably the most tantalizing:
Why are the stays of some native species — comparable to mountain lions — largely lacking from the tar pits?
One thing odd: scientists have uncovered comparatively few mountain lion stays within the tar pits.
P-22’s Hollywood superstar standing apart, it may appear bizarre to fret in regards to the absence of some mountain lion fossils when the tar pits have revealed the stays of extinct mammoths, dire wolves and big floor sloths.
Nonetheless, it’s odd that mountain lions — which existed within the Los Angeles space through the Ice Age — make up such a small proportion of the scientists’ findings within the tar pits. The Tar Pits have stays from at the least seven completely different mountain lions, whereas its saber-toothed cats quantity someplace between 2,500 and three,000.
And it’s not solely mountain lions lacking from the tar pits.
“We’ve only a few mountain lions, only a few deer…and just one raccoon,” she stated. Except for coyotes, scientists have discovered “only a few of those [large mammal] ‘survivors of the Ice Age,’ which is an fascinating factor.”
Why may mountain lions be lacking from the tar pits?
The reply may assist scientists paint a extra detailed image of what life in prehistoric Los Angeles was like.
Lindsey and her colleagues have a couple of concepts. Amongst different potential explanations, it’s potential that – true to their title – mountain lions have at all times most well-liked to be within the highlands, not the flatter areas of present-day Los Angeles close to the tar pits.
Or, it may need been that mountain lions had been afraid to hunt in the identical areas as saber toothed cats. “A mountain lion seems to be like a house-cat subsequent to a saber-toothed cat – [it’s possible] they wished to remain away and never be round all these huge scary issues.”
The place is the proof of human life?
Mountain lions, raccoons and deer aren’t the one mammals lacking from the tar pits. There’s additionally a conspicuous lack of human stays.
“People had been right here, however why don’t we discover any proof of them on the La Brea Tar pits?” Lindsey requested. “We’ve one human skeleton, after which we have now some artifacts which can be in all probability all from the Holocene (our present geological epoch), however we have now no proof of people overlapping with or interacting with the megafauna” by way of searching.
That is puzzling, as a result of “many — even perhaps most — scientists suppose that the foremost reason for the extinctions of the megafauna was human exercise,” Lindsey explains.
Just like the mountain lions, Lindsey notes that the absence of historic people may level to their reticence at searching close by saber-toothed cats and different harmful animals.
“It may need been that the tradition that was right here was coastally tailored and didn’t have to courageous, for instance, a pack of dire wolves to go hunt a horse or a camel,” she stated. “They may keep close to the shore and decide shellfish.”
Why did massive mammals begin disappearing — and what does that inform us about our future?
As soon as upon a time, big mammals roamed nice swaths of the earth.
“There have been big wombats in Australia, there have been big lemurs in Madagascar, there have been big sloths and armadillos in South America,” Lindsey stated.
So, Lindsey asks, why don’t we have now saber-toothed cats and mammoths and big floor sloths wandering round Wilshire Boulevard right this moment?
A dramatic change occurred. “On the finish of the Ice Age, one thing occurred, and it wiped off the highest finish of the physique dimension distribution all over the place aside from Africa,” she stated. “That’s the most important extinction occasion for the reason that 66 million-year-ago dinosaur extinction occasion.”
Much more chilling, the lack of the enormous mammals is coming to be acknowledged as “the primary pulse within the biodiversity disaster that we’re in right this moment,” she stated.
Why did this extinction occasion occur? “Most scientists suppose that people will need to have had a fairly vital function on this extinction. However the different factor that was occurring was we had been popping out of the Ice Age – the final main episode of worldwide warming,” she stated.
“Understanding form of the interaction between local weather change and human actions, how that impacts ecosystems and the way these two processes can intersect to drive extinctions is extremely vital.”
The La Brea Tar Pits are positioned to assist clear up the thriller of why exactly the enormous mammals died out, as a result of dimension and scope of its findings, which may be radiocarbon-dated and matched with identified shifts that occurred concurrently with people and the local weather.
On the other facet of the coin, 90% of the species discovered on the tar pits haven’t gone extinct. “We’ve tons of rabbits, rodents, lizards, bugs, and songbirds in our file that also dwell within the L.A. space right this moment,” Lindsey stated by way of e mail.
“We’re a file of survival and resilience,” she stated, which begs a couple of questions. “What made mountain lions profitable? What made coyotes so profitable? What made oak bushes profitable?”
As the local weather disaster worsens right this moment, the solutions to those mysteries may chart a path for the longer term.
“The following a number of a long time to a number of centuries are going to be certainly one of actually excessive international change,” Lindsey stated. “How can we use that data to assist life succeed going ahead?”
This existential query ought to provide you with one thing to ponder the subsequent time you move the Tar Pits’ iconic (and heartrending) mammoth statues off Wilshire Boulevard.
This story was written immediately in response to a reader’s query in regards to the La Brea Tar Pits. Do you have got a query about life in Los Angeles or California? Ask us!