If one hasn't visited the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, then one should. This site is active paleontological research right in urban Los Angeles and is an exceptional window back into the Ice Age. Today the Tar Pits are within Los Angeles's Hancock Park and are open to the public. They are an active site, so new discoveries are being made all the time.
One of their greatest mysteries is that of the La Brea Woman - there are many theories but few answers at this point. While some things have been determined of her, we still do not know as much as the more famous case of Ötzi The Iceman discovered in the glacier in the European Alps.
What To Know Of The La Brea Tar Pits Of LA
The La Brea tar pits are contained in the city's Hancock Park and were formed when tar or pitch (called brea in Spanish), seeped up to the surface over thousands of years. As the heavy oil seeps to the surface, it forms pools that become asphalt. Eventually, these harden into stubby mounds.
These pits have been a gold mine for preserving the Ice Age animals of the past and are one of the best windows into the world of the recent (relatively speaking) past.
- Registered: The La Brea Tar Pits Are Registered As A Natural Natural Landmark
- Tar Pits: Makeup Of Heavy Oil Fractions (Called Gilsonite)
- Oldest: The Oldest Known Material In The Pits is 38,000 Years Old
They became a death trap for animals. As one animal would wander in and get trapped, predators would come to eat the trapped animal and often get stuck themselves. It was a "predator trap" and there are a number of predators including dire wolves, American lions, wolves, saber-toothed cats, and short-faced bears.
There is some evidence that some of the animal bones (like that of a Saber-toothed cat) show cut marks and may indicate that humans butchered some of the animals trapped in the pit.
The Mystery Of the La Brea Woman - The Only Human Discovered
But one major thing that is lacking - is human remains in the pits. It is known that the Native American Chumash and Tongva people and their ancestors have lived in the area for thousands of years.
- Use As Sealant: Native Americans Used The Tar To Seal Cracks In their Canoes
To date, only one human has ever been found in the pits - that of the La Brea Woman. This partial skeleton has been dated to around 10,000 years ago and was between 17 and 25 years old at the time of her death.
Researchers have been able to learn more about her and it is known she was very short. She would have stood around 4 feet, 8–10 inches (1.5 meters) high. Judging from her teeth, she mostly ate a diet of stone-ground meal.
Her skull was also found to have been fractured and some have suggested that she could have been killed by a blow to the head. If true, then she may have been LA's first homicide victim.
The La Brea Woman:
- Date: Around 10,220 to 10,250 Years Ago
- Age: Between 17 and 28 Years Old
- Height: 4-Foot, 8-10 Inches
- Diet: Mostly Stone-Ground Meal
There have been many explanations and theories for her, but they have been mostly debunked and she remains a mystery. She was thought to have been ceremonially interred as she was found associated with a domesticated dog also in the pits. But it turned out that the dog is much more recent (only around 3,000 years old).
The La Brea Woman was first discovered in 1914 and no other human has been discovered there in the intervening century.
- Recovered: From Pit 10 At The Rancho La Brea Tar Pits
In 2009, California forensic artist Melissa R. Cooper created a facial reconstruction based on her skull.
Visiting The La Brea Tar Pits And La Brea Woman
One can see many of the extraordinary finds of the pits in the dedicated George C. Page Museum. Here one can see mammoths, mastodons, saber-toothed cats, and much more ice-age megafauna on display.
- Address: 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
- Hours Open: 9:30 am to 5 pm
- Tuesday: closed
- Admission: $15 For Adult and $7 For Children
- Former Exhibit: Her Remains Were On Displayed At The George C. Page Museum - Since Removed
Her remains were on display in the George C. Page Museum in addition to a life-sized model of the woman of what is thought she looked like. But that exhibit was removed in 2004 out of concern for offending Native Americans. Today one may be able to see a replica.
The museum offers the chance to explore one of the most important Ice Age excavation sites right in LA!