I’ve wanted to see the La Brea tar pits on Wiltshire Boulevard in the heart of Los Angeles, since I was a schoolboy.
I can’t remember where I first read about them, but I was fascinated by the concept – asphalt that oozes from the ground trapping mastodons, and saber-tooth tigers, and dire-wolves and thousands of birds over tens of thousands of years.
I remember the Flintstones making a joke about the tar-pits (Fred played a ‘monster from the tarpits’ in one episode), and I seem to remember that there were articles about the pits in the science fiction / science fact pulps that were my staple reading as a youngster.
But what I didn’t know until this week is that for all these years, I’ve been using a tautology.
La Brea is Spanish for “tar”, so La Brea Tar Pits means “Tar Pit Tar Pits” 🙂
Mind you, duplication seems appropriate with La Brea .. after all, over the millennia the pits have captured dozens – hundreds – even thousands of animals and birds.
For example, thousands of direwolves were captured and killed by the oozing tar. It seems that packs of the wolves would try to bring down prey in the area – but find themselves caught up in the ooze and be unable to extract themselves.
There are also fossils of mastodons (or woolly mammoths), ground sloths, saber tooth tigers, ancestral bison, extinct horses, an American lion, bears, turtles – and even one human (although it appears that she had been deliberately interred in the pit, rather than getting trapped)
The pits are now fenced off, to stop people and animals from venturing too close and getting trapped – but there is a tableau to show what it might have been like in the Pleistocene era.
The oldest carbon-dated remains go back 38-thousand years; the most recent are from this year (because small creatures – particularly insects and the like – are still becoming victims).