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Finds At L.A. Tar Pits Provide Glimpse Into Past

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Finds At L.A. Tar Pits Provide Glimpse Into Past

Finds At L.A. Tar Pits Provide Glimpse Into Past

Finds At L.A. Tar Pits Provide Glimpse Into Past

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/100831124/100831080" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Massive deposits of fossils — from ancient algae to a mammoth named Zed — were recently excavated in the La Brea tar pits in California. Robin Turner, president of ArchaeoPaleo Resource Management, says this is the world's best paleontological find.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

When you consider a hallmark paleontological find, you probably begin thinking about images of dusty, remote spaces far, far away from the hustle and bustle of a city. Well, we're about to hear about a major paleontological dig in the heart of the nation's second largest city. Workers excavating the parking garage next to an old department store in Los Angeles uncovered the largest known collection of fossils from the Ice Age. Paleontologists have been pulling fossils out of the La Brea tar pits, on the west side of L.A., for years. But this new find near the tar pits provides more details about what life was like up to 40 thousand years ago.

Robin Turner is president of ArchaeoPaleo Resource Management - that's a company that works closely with the tar pits. And she describes exactly what they found at that site.

NORRIS: We found a mammoth. We've got saber tooth cat, we've got lion, and I know that there is a short-faced bear. There's many sloths that were found. There's all sorts of birds of prey, pond turtles. And we've got trees with their root system and branches, and little bugs and a river.

NORRIS: And there's one particular animal that the folks at the Page Museum are particularly excited about - this mammoth that they've named Zed. Tell me about Zed.

NORRIS: Well, Zed was found in an old stream bed, where he had died and fallen apart. We found that we had the entire mammoth except, possibly, one part of a right leg. And it ended up that we still think we have that. But it's in another place that they haven't excavated yet. But Zed is wonderful because he has several broken rib bones that have healed, which show it was an old break. So he was walking around with some broken ribs. And he has an area on his chin that is a big, bulbous area that shows that he had some sort of a cancer, or a disease or something. So, he wasn't a well animal.

NORRIS: Now, it sounds like it was not just the big animals, but even the small things that you've found that got people really excited.

NORRIS: This is the most wonderful find I could ever have in my entire life, and I'm pretty sure it's the best find - a paleontologic find - that there is in the world. And the reason is, it's the entire environment that was kept intact. We have everything from the mammoth all the way down to trees and little bugs with hair on their backs, or little fur on their backs.

We have pond turtles, we have birds. We have everything all the way down to algae. We have a stream that goes through the site, so we have freshwater shells. Most paleontologic finds, we find an animal or a few things. But we don't find the entire environment, from 10,000 to 40,000 years ago.

NORRIS: So, we're talking about a well-traveled stretch of territory in Los Angeles. This is essentially right near Wilshire Boulevard. Thousands of cars buzz up and down the street all day long. What must life have been like along that stretch of what we now know as Wilshire Boulevard thousands of years ago?

NORRIS: Well, the area was much like it is now, but a little bit more tropical. So, it brought in all the animals for food substance as well as water.

NORRIS: Boy, when I think about traveling to and from Los Angeles, I guess I'll never think of the watering holes along Wilshire Boulevard in quite the same way - the restaurants and bistros. There were these animals that were dining along that strip long before humans arrived.

NORRIS: Yeah, I call it the original fast food.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: Robin Turner is the president of ArchaeoPaleo Resource Management. That's a company that works with the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles. Ms. Turner, thank you very much.

NORRIS: Oh, thank you, Michele.

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