Jun 30, 2014

La Brea Tar Pits Now Offering New Experiences!

(L) The Observation Pit opened in 1952. It remained the only fossil museum in Hancock Park until the Page Museum opened in 1977. (Image courtesy of NHM, Museum Archives); (R) Inside Pit 91, excavator Sean Campbell creates a grid across the matrix to help paleontologists track where each bone is found. (Photo by David Lauridsen, courtesy NHM.)

As of June 28, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits debuts a suite of improvements to the visitor experience, including two natural and cultural treasures that will be reactivated to spotlight the intensely site-specific legacy of the world-famous Ice Age site and it's history of discovery, excavation, research and display.

The mid-century Observation Pit designed by Henry Sims Bent (1952), the first museum in Hancock Park, will be reopened for special tours after several decades of closure. A trip inside the Observation Pit is part of the new "Excavator Tour", FREE with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org.

Simultaneously, excavations inside Pit 91 - one of the worlds longest running urban paleontological excavations sites - will recommence following a seven-year hiatus due to Project 23 investigations In addition to these openings; the iconic mammoths and mastodon surrounding the Lake Pit have been renovated, the Ice Age frieze crowning the top of the Page Museum building has been restored, and daily programming and interaction with scientists has been expended inside the Page Museum.
“We are delighted to offer new daily tours inside the Observation Pit. The post-war gem was designed to engage visitors in the discovery of Ice Age fossils by allowing them to descend into an excavation pit. It was an important first step in the development of the park,” said Dr. Jane Pisano, President and Director of NHM. “Visitors have long been drawn to the tar pits, and allowing them to get close to fossils and paleontology became a theme. That’s key to our reactivation of Pit 91 as well. It allows us to share with visitors the excitement of the discovery process.”
The summer activities are part of a first phase to connect visitors with the indoor and outdoor experience of the La Brea Tar Pits and its Page Museum, and to create greater awareness and support for the ongoing research focused on the tar pits. New findings, appearing in recent journals, range from what insect-damaged La Brea fossils reveal about climate change and the Ice Age, to what damaged skeletons of dire wolves and saber-toothed cats (two of La Brea’s prominent predators) reveal about their hunting modes, to new radiocarbon dating and isotopic analysis of fossils from the ongoing excavation at Project 23. 

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The Observation Pit

On the western edge of the La Brea Tar Pits campus sits the Observation Pit, a circular building and the first visitor experience in Hancock Park, pre-dating both the Page Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. After early plans for the park were derailed by the second world war and the Great Depression, a post-WWII master plan for the development of Hancock Park as a scientific landmark was approved by the County. It called for an observation pit over an existing fossil deposit—the catalyst being Chester Stock, a paleontologist who led excavations in the park and conceived of a fossil museum onsite. Stock had drilled test holes in the area in 1948, looking for a good deposit around which he could build an observation station and museum. 

The Observation Pit took further shape when Harry Sims Bent, the Pasadena architect whose work includes the L.A. County Arboretum, Honolulu Academy of Arts, and Ala Moana Beach Park, created a curved observation pathway leading towards the base of the pit. The original design featured circular openings in the ceiling and an open upper section of the south-facing wall for outside viewing into the pit. The circular openings were later affixed with skylights and the open window with didactics to prevent vandalism to the site. Although a staged presentation, the Observation Pit contains real bones, including those of saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, and dire wolves. The Observation Pit was the only fossil museum at the La Brea Tar Pits until the opening of the George C. Page Museum in 1977. It was closed in the early 1990s, as programming and tours unfolded inside the museum, and the emphasis turned to the real-time discoveries. 

Pit 91

Early investigations at the La Brea Tar Pits concentrated efforts on recovering the largest and most spectacular fossils. To correct this bias and develop a more balanced picture of life during the late Pleistocene, scientists carried out an intensive excavation of the Pit 91 quarry from 1969 to 2007, an effort that doubled the number of species known from the tar pits. Many of the smaller sorts of Rancho La Brea fossils—seeds, insects and mollusks, fish, amphibians, and small birds and rodents—are best known from this excavation. In all, some 160 species of plants and more than 125 species of invertebrates and 230 species of vertebrates are now known from the Rancho La Brea deposits. About half of them are known only from Pit 91.
The 1969 opening included a public component: an observation deck to connect visitors with on-site excavations. Pit 91 was the one of the world’s only continuously active urban excavation sites until its hiatus began in 2007 due to the demands of Project 23—the 23 fossil blocks extracted from the ground during the construction of the nearby Los Angeles County Museum of Art parking lot. This year, in an effort to activate an indoor-outdoor circuit (through the park and into the museum), Pit 91 will be re-staffed with excavators once again for the summer season. 

Activities at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits

  • New, daily Excavator Tours include an indoor and outdoor exploration of the Fossil Lab, Lake Pit, Observation Pit and Project 23. The tours are free with general admission to the Page Museum and begin June 28. Space is limited. Time tickets required, visit www.tarpits.org.
  • The re-freshed Pit 91 Viewing Station is open 10 am - 4 pm. Excavators are inside the pit Wednesday-Sunday through September 7.
  • Ice Age Encounters feature a life-sized saber-toothed cat puppet. Regular performances are Friday-Sunday, 11 am, 12 pm, and 1 pm. $3 per person. Children 2 years and under free; members free.
The Fossil Lab (inside the museum) is open 9:30 am - 5 pm. Watch as paleontologists work on new finds—with specimens, tools, and completed work on view. 

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About the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits:
The world-famous Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits is part of the Natural History Family of Museums, which also includes the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in Exposition Park and the William S. Hart Museum and Ranch in Newhall, California. Located in the heart of metropolitan Los Angeles, the Page Museum represents one of the world’s most famous fossil localities, the only active urban paleontological excavation site in the United States. This unique Southern California attraction displays Ice Age fossils—including saber-toothed cats, mammoths, dire wolves and mastodons—from the 10,000 to 40,000-year-old sticky asphalt deposits commonly known as the La Brea Tar Pits. Also on display are the fossilized remains of microscopic plants and seeds, insects and reptiles. Daily, visitors can watch scientists and volunteers clean, repair, and identify fossils inside the glass-enclosed paleontology laboratory. Outside the Museum, in Hancock Park, iconic life-size replicas depict several of the extinct mammals that once roamed the Los Angeles Basin.

Hours and Admission:
5801 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90036. 
Open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. 
$12 for adults; $9 for college students with ID, seniors 62+ and youth 13-17; $5 for children 3-12; FREE for children 2 and under, Museum members, LAUSD students and teachers, and military personnel and families. 
Visit www.tarpits.org or call (323) 934-PAGE.

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