Field Trip Ideas, Science/Math, Travel

What do paleontologists do all day?

At the La Brea Tar Pits

Imagine a dig that discovered an 80%-complete skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, the Ice Age giant. Now picture that dig taking place right in the middle of Los Angeles’s Hancock Park, home to the La Brea Tar Pits.

In 2006 workers excavating a new parking garage at the nearby Los Angeles County Museum of Art discovered a Columbian mammoth skull. Work halted immediately and paleontologists from The Page Museum a few yards away were called in to box up the  fossils until they could be explored. Now young and old alike can watch paleontologists and volunteers as they work seven days a week on “Project 23” as it’s known. Yesterday, when our family visited, workers had opened boxes 1 and 14. Recent discoveries included jaw fragments of a baby bison, bones from a juvenile mastodon, sloth and turtle fossils. A paleontologist patiently answered our question about her work, her tools, etc.

Project 23 is taking place right in the middle of Hancock Park, just behind the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. While you are there check out Pit 91. Though digging at Pit 91 has halted while Project 23 is ongoing, you’ll find exhibits detailing findings from the pit as well as tools and techniques that paleontologists use there.

Access to Project 23, Pit 91  and the famous La Brea Tar Pits is absolutely free! You can park for $9 in The Page Museum lot or use metered parking on Wilshire (I believe there is a two hour maximum). If you want to see complete skeletons after they’ve been cleaned and reconstructed, you can pay admission to The Page Museum. It’s kind of pricey. However, if you complete the children’s worksheet available at the desk near the gift shop, you can get a gift from the store. We got a “Dino Picture Projector.” The best part of the museum is the “fishbowl” laboratory where you can see paleontologists and volunteers hard at work sorting microfossils, cleaning fossils, etc.

If you’ve never been to Hancock Park, bring a picnic lunch and check out the digs. The La Brea Tar Pits and surrounding sites are by far some of the best free entertainment in Los Angeles.