Story telling at the La Brea Tar Pits

One of the reasons I wanted to visit The La Brea Tar Pits was to see how they tell the story of animals in the Last Ice Age.

Most of their displays are fairly traditional and date from the 1970s, but include some really spectacular specimens. One of the things I really liked was the wall of wolf skulls. It reminded me of Manchester Museum’s Nature’s Library gallery and really hammered home the dominance of predators at La Brea.

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

The really innovative thing at the museum is the ‘fish bowl’ lab. It was one of the first museums to pioneer the meet the scientist type of display. Visitors clearly found it really interesting, but it did still present a barrier between the visitor and the scientists.



Alongside the displays were and army of dedicated volunteers and staff giving tours and doing object handling using casts. They were great at bringing the fossils to life, but I was a bit disappointed that the object handling did not use any real objects, missing an opportunity there.

Volunteer showing off her cast of a  Sabretoothed Cat

Volunteer showing off her cast of a Sabretoothed Cat

Where The La Brea Tar Pits comes in to its own is the on site excavation and interpretation. New material is being discovered every day, which is clearly very exciting. Daily tours give visitors the opportunity to meet the people excavating the fossils from the tar and make the experience really dynamic.

Project 23 excavation

Project 23 excavation


Board detailing that day’s discoveries

This had clearly been thought through and the people we spoke to on my tour were really great at simply explaining what they were doing, what they had found and why it was important. My only slight thing was that it was a bit of a shame it was all done across a high security fence, but I guess this is an issue lots of museums in parks have to try and resolve.

The La Brea Tar Pits is an incredible place and is one of the finest places in the world to learn about Ice Age animals. It should be on everyone’s bucket list!

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


One Response

  1. […] David Gelsthorpe of Manchester Museum on how the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits tells the story of Ice Age animals. […]

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