Nearly complete Columbian mammoth discovered at La Brea Tar Pits

  • Chicago (IL) - A nearly complete set of fossils from a gigantic Columbian mammoth was discovered by scientists at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, along with a collection of other bones from Ice Age animals. This discovery will aid scientists in trying to determine what life was like in that area until about 40,000 years ago.

    The La Brea Tar Pits are deposits of natural asphalt which contains the preserved remains of both animals and plants from the past. The mammoth was discovered as a parking garage was being demolished, part of a project to build a new one. So that renovations were able to be completed, the scientists had to determine a new method of collecting the bones. The earth was removed as it was, intact and complete, and then placed in crates which allowed scientists to examine them in a slow and detailed manner free from construction timeframes.

    The tar pits have given researchers an indication as to what life was like during the Ice Age ever since 1913 when excavation in the area began. This new discovery is the largest since that time, and it is also unusual as typically bones are found in relative disarray rather than still intact and all together.

    The fossils discovered have been deemed Project 23, because the compacted fossils, soil and tar were stored in 23 large crates for further analysis.

    At this point over 700 specimens have been identified. Among the discoveries are the bones of saber-tooth cats, ground sloths, dire wolves and bison, along with the skull of a prehistoric American lion.

    The mammoth, almost completely intact, is one of the most exciting discoveries. Scientist John Harris has named the mammoth Zed. Zed is the last letter of the alphabet, but this particular Zed is is an ancient relative of the modern elephant, and has been extinct since the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago.

    The mammoth's two tusks were also completely intact and measured more than three meters long (nine feet). It was a healthy adult male which stood over three meters high at his hip. It has been determined that at its time of death the animal was anywhere from 47 to 49 years old.

    Project 23 has just begun. So far only three crates have been excavated spanning only a half a meter deep swath into the compacted tar, soil and animal remains which go into the crates, each measuring 50 cubic meters. Ideally, the scientists want to catalogue the fossils within the next five years.