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Famous fossils

La Brea worth pit stop while on L.A. getaway

By CARY ORDWAY

If you're fascinated by things archeological, be sure that your next trip to Los Angeles includes a stop at the La Brea Tar Pits, one of the world's most famous fossil localities. More extinct Ice Age plants and animals have been recovered here than anywhere else on earth.

It's hard to imagine but here, just a few blocks south from glitzy Beverly Hills, there were once such animals as saber-toothed cats and mammoths roaming the area. The museum offers skeletal reconstructions of some of these beasts while the surrounding area, Hancock Park, offers pathways around some of the archelogical dig sites as well as the tar pits.

The fossils collected at La Brea date back to between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago. Nearly all of the skeletons on display in the museum are real fossil bones found at the tar pits. Since 1906, more than one million bones have been recovered from the La Brea Tar Pits representing 231 species of vertebrates. Another 159 kinds of plants and 234 kinds of invertebrates have been identified.

The large number of fossils resulted when the sticky asphalt entrapped many Ice Age animals. Interestingly, such entrapment is ongoing today -- mostly birds, rodents and rabbits. A fence surrounds the pits to prevent visitors from spending more time at the site than they had planned.

Dire wolves are the most common large mammals found at La Brea -- in fact, several thousand have been found. About 2,000 saber-toothed cats also have been found.

To help visitors envision these ancient and extinct creatures being trapped in the pits, the museum has life-size replicas of mammoths and other animals positioned in and around the tar pits. As you walk along the park trails, you'll also come across several ongoing excavation sites and, during certain periods, be able to watch as bones are taken from the ground, cleaned and catalogued.For more information on the La Brea Tar Pits, phone (323) 934-PAGE or visitwww.tarpits.org. Entrance to the museum is $7, although there is no admission charge for Hancock Park.

OTHER DESTINATIONS: Be sure and check out California Weekend's articles on the Sonoma Food Tour, Napa Valley and Temecula Wineries.



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