It wasn't that long ago that North America looked very different. During the Late Pleistocene (between 129,000 and 12,700 years ago - also called the Ice Age) many different large animals roamed the land. With the extinction of the American megafauna, around 90 genera of mammals weighing over 44 kilograms (97 lbs) went extinct.

There are many ways that one can still see the impact or legacy of the Ice Age today in North America. One is the post-glacial rebound that is happening particularly in parts of Canada. One can see the remains of prehistoric Ice-Age lakes like Lake Agassiz which was once larger than all the Great Lakes today combined.


North America of The Late Pleistocene

If one could go back to the time of the Late Pleistocene what would one have seen? The north of the continent was locked in massive ice sheets, but where the ice didn't cover was a tapestry of animals more impressive than going on a safari in Africa today.

  • Late Pleistocene: Between 129,000 and 12,700 Years Ago
  • Number: 90 Genera of Mammals Went Extinct
  • Megafauna: Over 44 Kilograms (97 lbs)

The megafauna of North America included giant sloths, short-faced bears, American lions, tapirs, giant tortoises, American cheetahs, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, camelids, horses, saiga, llamas, other species of bison, mammoths, mastodons, more 13 more species of pronghorn, giant beavers, armadillos, and more.

  • 70%: Of North American Megafauna Went Extinct

But now around 70% of the megafauna that North America once had, is now gone. The reasons why it went extinct remain a matter of debate. But it is likely a combination of human-driven extinction and pressures of climate change. The extinction seems to have happened over a 5,000 year period.

As these species disappeared, the landscapes changed as well - in the Arctic, taiga forests replaced the tundra steppe. It can be really easy to forget how different the world was not that long ago (in geological terms).

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The Charleston Museum

The Charleston Museum is making a new section in their Natural History Galley that will include many fossils from the Pleistocene / Ice Age period. In the museum, one can see and learn about the animals of the period including mammoths, mastodon, and saber-tooth cats.

  • Admission: $12.00 Per Adult
  • Monday-Saturday: 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
  • Sunday: 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

One should be able to see Late Pleistocene exhibits in just about any natural history museum in the country.

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

The La Brea Tar Pits and its George C. Page Museum must be one of the best places in the country to learn about the Ice Age and the megafauna in the USA. These tar pits were a carnivore trap - where one animal would get stuck in the tar and then predators would be attracted and risk becoming trapped themselves. Consequently, a disproportionate amount of the animals recovered here are predators.

The La Brea Tar Pits preserves many of the most remarkable Ice Age North American animals and is an active excavation site, making it one of the best places to learn about the prehistory of North America.

  • Number of Pits: Over 100 Pits
  • Pit 91: The Only Pit That Is Still Regularly Excavated

Numerous remains of recovered specimens from animals are displayed in the museum. The museum tells the story of the tar pits and presents specimens excavated from them. Visitors can walk around the park and see the tar pits.

There are also a number of life-sized models of these prehistoric animals by or in the pits. If one is lucky, one will even be able to see the researchers in action here, excavating and learning more about the past.

  • Hours Open: 9:30 am to 5 pm
  • Tuesday: closed
  • Address: 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles
  • Admission: $15.00 Per Adult

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The National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is a great museum to learn about the natural history of the world. This massive museum includes many exhibits from the time of the dinosaurs, from the Ice Age, and just about any other period of natural history that one can think of.

It was the eleventh most visited museum in the world with 7.1 million visitors annually - making it the most visited natural history museum on the planet. The main building has  325,000 square feet (30,200 m2) of exhibition space and public space with over 1,000 employees.

The National Museum of Natural History is great for a deep dive into the history of the planet and how the Late Pleistocene or Ice Age fits in with that. It boasts the largest natural history collection in the world and is home to around 185 professional natural history scientists.

  • Day Open: 364 Days A Year
  • Admission: Free
  • Most: Most Visited Natural History Museum in The World
  • Specimens: Over 145 Million Specimens

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