It’s been several years since I traveled back to Los Angeles, 40,000 BC, so I decided to climb into my time machines and make the trip. In this case my time machines were the Culver City and MTA buses which dropped me within two blocks of my destination at the Page Museum on Wilshire Boulevard (next door to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The Page Museum is located at the site of the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits where millions of fossils have been excavated from the last Ice Age—and the work is ongoing well into the future.
Did you know that animals such as saber-toothed cats (not tigers) and woolly mammoths once roamed the Los Angeles Basin? You can see sculptures as they would have looked in the park outside the museum. Inside the museum you can watch the paleontologists and volunteers carefully pick out and clean the fossils and bones from plants, birds, insects, and animals that became mired in the sticky black tar (or, more specifically, asphalt) allowing scientists an accurate picture of life in the area from 12,000 to 40,000 years ago.
The museum is very small with reconstructed skeletons of various Ice Age animals and two informational movies. This is not the Smithsonian but a nice, compact representation of what life was like in Los Angeles before civilization arrived. In the center of the building is an open air atrium landscaped with plants similar to those that might have been growing in the area thousands of years ago. There was no access to the atrium the day I was there as birds were nesting and apparently could become aggressive. However, you can take the exterior stairs to the roof and look down from the treetops. I didn’t see any nests but one friendly fellow flew down and sat next to me on the railing.
Although there is a small charge to enter the museum (which I recommend), you can wander around the tar pits outside for free where you can watch the methane bubbling up and perhaps catch a glimpse of excavators working. In June 2006, construction began on a new parking garage for LACMA. Sixteen fossil deposits were discovered (including an adult mammoth) which were crated into large tree boxes, moved over to the Page Museum grounds as Project 23, and are now being excavated seven days a week.
So, next time someone tells you Los Angeles is too young to have any meaningful history (or in this case, pre-history), you can point them in the direction of the Page Museum.
(All photos copyright roslyn m wilkins)