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Celebrating a Century of Fossil Finds In the La Brea Tar Pits 93

An anonymous reader writes "A century ago on Monday, the predecessor to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County began a two-year project to uncover the Ice Age creatures that became trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits. 'Digs over the years have unearthed bones of mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and other unsuspecting Ice Age creatures that became trapped in ponds of sticky asphalt. But it's the smaller discoveries — plants, insects and rodents — in recent years that are shaping scientists' views of life in the region 11,000 to 50,000 years ago.'"
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Celebrating a Century of Fossil Finds In the La Brea Tar Pits

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  • But But... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nickserv ( 1974794 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @05:06AM (#45256793)

    I thought the world was only 6,000 years old?

    Richard Dawkins on Real Time this weekend said, "People who believe the earth was created 6,000 years ago, when it's actually 4.5 billion years old, should also believe the width of N America is 8 yards. That is the scale of the error."

    • Why bother? (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by flyingfsck ( 986395 )
      They have dug up millions of bones - to what purpose? One would think that by now they have enough to fill a large warehouse that no-one will ever look at again, except may another archeologist digging up Los Angeles and wondering how all these ancient bones became so mixed up in a big jumble with traces of rust in the clay, around the big altar of the 21st century religious complex known as 'the museum'...
      • Re:Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 28, 2013 @06:39AM (#45257037)

        They have dug up millions of bones - to what purpose?

        The bones is a byproduct. The important thing is the information we got from them. The reason we don't dispose of the bones is because they might still have stories to tell.
        Depending on how nihilistic you want to be one can say that there is no point in getting information on when and how different traits evolved. If you want to go all retard-capitalistic on it you can say that it doesn't provide anything of economic value.
        Those views can be applied to pretty much all science, be it astrophysics to philosophy. Those views are also incredibly short-sighted and something one would expect from a PHB that can't see beyond the next quarter.

      • Re:Why bother? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Savage-Rabbit ( 308260 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @06:40AM (#45257041)

        They have dug up millions of bones - to what purpose? One would think that by now they have enough to fill a large warehouse that no-one will ever look at again, except may another archeologist digging up Los Angeles and wondering how all these ancient bones became so mixed up in a big jumble with traces of rust in the clay, around the big altar of the 21st century religious complex known as 'the museum'...

        I used to wonder about that too until a paleontologist explained to me that digging up large amounts of bones, even from mundane species like duckbilled dinosaurs, can yield all sorts of data bout things like: what was the extent of variations in skeletal morphology? what did these critters die of, i.e. diseases, who ate them? how did different predators kill duckbills? (which tell you something about a whole range of predators that you have practically no other way of finding out except maybe uber-rare fossilized footprints) .... the list goes on. You can also infer things about social behavior by digging up large collections of bones from a single species, you can get clues from them about how environmental factors affected population size and which environmental extremes limited a species' habitat. Another example is archaic humans whose skeletal remains are a couple of steps up from dragon's teeth on the rarity scale. The grand to total of the Neanderthal remains is IIRC about 100 (mostly incomplete) skeletons which is an unusually large sample size. It's also wroth noting that Neanderthals existed for c.a 350.000 years so that's one skeleton per 35.000 years. The skeletal remains of most older hominid species are much, much more rare. In the last few decades archaic humans have been sub-divided into a large number of subspecies based on differences in skeletal morphology and often a species classification is based on a one or two incomplete skeletons. Recently a unusually large cache of Archaic human bones was found at Dmanisi in Georgia. The morphological differences between the different individuals of that population were found to be about the same as those found in modern humans. Just for example, the Dmanisi finds included an individual whose brain size was half that of most of his contemporaries so one can conclude that brain size is no conclusive indicator of how primitive an individual is. Its the way the brain works that is important not so much the brain size. This find in Dmanisi has led to the realization that a whole group of Archaic human 'variants' including, Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, Homo gautengensis, Homo ergaster and Homo erectus were probably the same species and that they may have been been erroneously over-divided into subspecies by scientist reading far too much into variations in skeletal morphology. This is not to say those scientists made a mistake, they just did not have the broad collection of bones available that they needed to establish extremes in morphological variation and drew what conclusions they could based on the evidence available. Thats how science works: procure evidence, examine it, draw conclusions, create a theory, get new evidence, examine it, draw conclusions, revise your theory. It's also what irritates the piss out of religionists who like to have a single never changing doctrine, scientists keep changing their minds.

        • duckbilled dinosaurs

          We just call those ducks now...

        • by PPH ( 736903 )

          Keep all of this in mind when you select your burial plot. You are just going to make it easier for some archeologist to find you and everyone else in one convenient place. And then your remains will rest for eternity on the shelves of some university.

          Jimmy Hoffa will be revered as some sort of god or king, as his subjects buried him and then built a huge monument on top of his grave.

        • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

          They need look no further than domestic dogs ... the way other critters (fossilized or otherwise) are classified is frequently akin to deciding that since they look so dissimilar in size and everything else, Chihuahuas and Great Danes are different species, or that white Dobermans are an uber-rare endangered species rather than just a rare color variant (to purists: yes, I know it's a single-source mutation). This leads to classification and rarity-status nonsense like the spotted owl (color variant of the

      • by gsslay ( 807818 )

        You have offered your opinion to this discussion thread - to what purpose? One would think that by now we have enough to fill the internet that no-one will ever look at again.

        The purpose, I suppose, is that sometimes the what's dug up offers something new. A new story or idea. Sometimes radically so. But you have to go through a lot of the same-old mundanes to get to them.

        The jury is still out on your opinion, but I'm thinking it's part of the mundane. But thanks for contributing.

    • Re:But But... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @05:43AM (#45256891) Homepage Journal

      get on with the trolling program, leading edge creationists believe that isotopes and sediment layers have been disproven by science(and incidentally that if you find any fish fossils on high regions that is proof of the great flood).

      if you take it further there's also an allstar argument that has retained it status that GOD CREATED TIME so none of it matters. but that card is to be played usually after everything else has been exhausted(since it's a super card that can't be beaten by logic... because... magic!).

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        if you take it further there's also an allstar argument that has retained it status that GOD CREATED TIME so none of it matters. but that card is to be played usually after everything else has been exhausted(since it's a super card that can't be beaten by logic... because... magic!).

        Fossils, isotopes, sediment layers--tricks of Satan, I say. His cleverness has designed many misleading things to obfuscate God's work from the faithfully weak and disbelievers to foster more lost souls at the time of their death to enter his dark kingdom of dark matter and energy.

    • I used to think that Dwakins had all the hallmarks of a cult leader, but he fails to display any ability to communicate his philosophy except to preach to the choir.

      In particular, this remark is a ridiculous non sequitur. "If I find you wrong here is on scale X, then you should believe everything else to be different by scale X." So does that mean that if the Bible was only 10% out, you should believe everything else to be 10% out?

      Why can't the man focus on educating the scientific method rather than coming

      • Dawkins does use science time and time again to disprove creation theory etc which is part of particular religion. The die hard creationists will never ever get it because their belief in the magical trumps evidence so i think mockery is justified (and its good fun) But a lot of the time the creationists dig their own hole and make themselves look completely stupid without any help from anyone (Republican Teaparty for example). Mockery is a bit harsh on those creationists who are ignorant due lack of educ
        • On the contrary, it is precisely the ignorant people who are willing to learn who you need to bring on side.

          Dwakins does nothing but preach to the choir and polarise. He doesn't teach anything new to those who already understand the value of science; he encourages a mistaken understanding of science to neophytes; and he alienates everyone else. This is grand if you actually profit from the fight, and profit more when the fight is bigger - as, indeed, he does.

          • The ignorant who are willing to learn, once they have learnt science rules, will forgive him. i don't think you can accuse Dawkins of not advancing the understanding of science. that was his job for a while []
            • Accepted, but producing excellent academic work doesn't give you a free pass to transition to talking bollocks instead.

              Newton was noncontentiously brilliant as scientists go, but he spent most of his latter years coming up with theological nonsense. I wouldn't defend his theology on the basis that he had once done some brilliant science.

              • i've not heard the "bollox" you are talking about. I've only heard him talk in terms of insisting on truth. Sometimes truth is sometimes painful and people mis-interpret as being aggressive, arrogant etc
          • by cusco ( 717999 )

            Dawkins quotes are particularly useful for young people wavering on the edge of disbelief. Someone who says, "The good reverend is mistaken in his interpretation of the science" is much less likely to attract their attention than someone who says, "The reverend a fucking idiot, and the science conclusively shows how wrong he really is." The reasons are much the same as the reasons that slasher flicks are much more popular among teens than romances.

      • In particular, this remark is a ridiculous non sequitur.

        Yes it is, and it's meant to be. The creationists' claim is ridiculous, the comparable claim is ridiculous and the comparison is also ridiculous. He's not trying to logically undermine creationism with that quote, he's just mocking it.

        Agreed as far as the third paragraph goes, though.

        • Saying something ridiculous "because they started it" seems cheap - and if the creationist assertion is worthy of ridicule, then just as surely is Dwakins' own statement, with no end to the spat.

          I wouldn't even attach emotive descriptions like "ridiculous" to creationist beliefs. Certain assertions of creationism are provably wrong, providing you accept a little philosophical induction (i.e. no "tricks put there by beelzebubbles" card) rather than relying only on Popper's falsifiability. Even then, the meth

          • ETA that's assuming I'm having a serious argument and not just bored trololoing, in which case I'll mock Bible-bashers and those who bash the Bible alike. 'cos ideologues always end up with crappy arguments, regardless of whether they're trying to demonstrate something true, false, or unprovable.

          • ...stubbornly sticking to creationism is ridiculous if 1) you are presented with arguments and evidence; and 2) you have the intellectual capacity to apply it.

            Herein lies the trick. I remember a discussion with my Earth Science teacher many many Earth Years ago (specified for the pedantic trolls) where he covered a study that he once took an administrative part in where he and others would put out a test to a sample with a single question: "What causes the earth to have seasons?" The answers were myriad fr

            • That doesn't really show that people are stupid of their own volition - it shows simply that your presenting someone with pre-packaged evidence doesn't mean that

              1) you're to be trusted with honesty in that packaging effort;
              2) you've presented the evidence clearly;
              3) you've presented the evidence so effectively as to show how it must destroy any erroneous old belief.

              Put another way, a video is a shit way to learn, and a lecture's not that much better (this includes any talking head on TV). I heartily support

            • by cusco ( 717999 )

              That's the most disturbing thing I've read yet this week.

      • The clue is the sentence immediately following the one you quibble with, where he makes it clear that he's using an analogy to demonstrate the scale of the error. A pejorative analogy, mind you, but the pejorative is the seasoning, not the point of the exercise.

        • "YOU'RE A NIGGER! And the reason I'm calling you a nigger is a nuanced and clever one..."

          If you have to explain that your rhetoric has to be taken a particular way, it wasn't effective.

    • 8 yards sounds perfectly plausible as long as you define what scale your yard is in. It's not as if the USA is bound to use the metric system or even an international standard of the yard. Even better, why not have all states have their individual system of measurements. That way Texas can have the biggest yard in the world, California the largest number of yards in the entire USA and so on.
    • The only people I hear saying that is people who jokingly post in in Slashdot. If you would shut up it help it disappear.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There is a pit of tar next to Hollywood where they find and monetize fossils.

    • I kinda wish they'd just pump it dry and fill it with concrete. It smells bad and its leaking into the neighboring underground parking structures.

  • Dickie Attenborough or Tommy Lee Jones.

    Many of us know what happens when those two get near dino DNA and dormant volcanoes under LA.

    (Mommy gets very angry).

  • by cartman ( 18204 ) on Monday October 28, 2013 @06:36AM (#45257027)

    If you're ever in Los Angeles, you should visit the museum. The specimens are only about 50,000 years old and they were almost perfectly preserved by falling into the tar pits. Their skeletons are remarkably intact. It's not like dinosaur fossils which are extensively reconstructed. Every last little bone and joint is original and in excellent condition.

    There are all sorts of massive mammals like sabre-tooth tigers, giant sloths, giant camels which apparently roamed North America until fairly recently, etc.

    It's a worthwhile excursion if you happen to be in LA.

    • I was surprised when I visited there many years ago that it's located on the famed Wilshire Blvd, near the prestigious Rodeo Drive. Contrary to conventional belief, my theory is that sabre-toothed tigers were attracted there not by prey that was already stuck in the tar, but by luxury handbags.

      • Even better: the back of the Beverly Center mall, on San Vicente, has active oil wells on some of the most expensive real estate in LA. Right across the street from Cedars-Sinai.
      • It's not a coincidence. The tar pits are natural underground petroleum deposits which percolate to the surface in that spot (same thing happens in other nearby areas and offshore, but not to as great an extent). The petroleum deposits are what attracted the first oil drilling operations there, and made the region famously wealthy. Everything else (Hollywood, designer shoes, etc) came afterwards as a consequence.
    • Seconded. With regard to the quality of preservation of the skeletons: when I was there, the volunteers working in the glass-walled laboratory were extracting tiny rodent bones from blocks of natural asphalt.
    • Absolutely! What I found made it especially interesting is that it is focused on a single time period and a specific location. I feel like I was able to gain something of a picture of the web of predator and prey in the megafauna of prehistoric SoCal. Most museums instead treat you to their most spectacular fossils from any time in the last several hundred million years.
    • by Mullen ( 14656 )

      The displays of multiple fully intact skeletons of Mammoths and the "Wall of Dire Wolves Skulls" is worth the trip alone.

    • If you grew up as a kid in the area of the Museum, this was THE cool place to go for a field trip.
      Fond memories of going there on the bus to see the fossils.

  • Back to the fossils (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you have never visited The La Brea Tar Pits (which translates to The Tar-Tar pits?) and have a chance, go there! Plan to visit the museum. In the museum is a whole wall of dire wolf skulls, back lit with a yellow light. Creepy.
    My favorite is "old smiley," the California Sabre Tooth Tiger, Smilodonius Californius. A Scientific American Magazine devoted to dinosaurs about 15 years ago had this to say about dinosaurs, which also applies to this mammal , (paraphrase), 'Thank God we have all these fossils t

    • Mr Capone I presume? Throwing bodies into the tar pits...
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The correct translation is The The Tar Tar Pits.

    • They are called that because they are the Rancho La Brea tar pits. So calling them the Tar Ranch tar pits would be more accurate.
  • There are no La Brea Tar Pits in Scotland!!

  • When I was in 4th grade I threw my metal batman lunchbox in pit on a field trip, I wonder if they have unearthed that yet?

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