The amazing La Brea Tar Pits

I’m here at the Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to look at the work they do with the public and the amazing Ice Age animals.

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.


The La Brea Tar Pits formed as crude oil seeped to the surface from underground oil deposits. In warm weather the pools formed hidden traps for Ice Age animals and preserved bones, insects and woody plants in exceptional detail.

The fossils preserved in the tar have been excavated since the late 1800s and are still being found today. The most recent are from blocks of tar and sediment from when they built an underground car park at the LACMA art museum next door.

One of the massive developments in understanding at the Tar Pits in the last 50 years is the excavation of microfossils from the sediment. This has yielded everything from reptile scales to beetles which has transformed our understanding of the environment.

The work is carried out by a mix of staff and a team of dedicated volunteers.


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