Environment & Science

Extinct mammal fossils uncovered during LA Metro Purple Line construction

Cogstone workers place an ancient elephant bone in a plaster cast to safely remove it from the Wilshire/La Brea subway station excavation.
Cogstone workers place an ancient elephant bone in a plaster cast to safely remove it from the Wilshire/La Brea subway station excavation.
L.A. Metro

Los Angeles Metro Purple Line Extension workers have uncovered leg bones from two extinct mammals at the site of a future Miracle Mile subway station.  

It's the agency's second such fossil discovery in the past year, according to a statement released Wednesday. Last November, workers discovered a tusk, tooth fragments and a nearly complete mastodon skull at the same site. 

The first fossil, which measured approximately 20 inches long, was an ancient camel species' radioluna. The bone connected its wrist and elbow joints. The second fossil, which measured 36 inches long, was likely a femur or a thigh bone of an ancient elephant.

The extinct camel bone measures approximately 20 inches.
The extinct camel bone measures approximately 20 inches.
L.A. Metro

The camel — Camelops hesternus — had longer limbs, knobby knees and a larger head than modern-day camels, Cogstone Resource Management paleontological field director Dr. Ashley Leger told KPCC. 

Leger was monitoring excavation work for the Wilshire and La Brea Avenue station when the bones were spotted, she said. After the bone segments were identified, Metro workers diverted digging equipment 50 feet away and marked the area around the exposed bone, using stakes and brightly colored flags.

The fossils were then encased in plaster, removed from the construction site and taken back to Cogstone’s lab, Leger said. The discovery of the camel’s leg bone was especially rare and exciting for her office, she added.

“These animals are long gone,” Leger said. “Camels still live on other parts of the world, but there obviously aren’t camels roaming around North America today.”

The same goes for giant elephants, she added.

The mammals likely lived during the Pleistocene era – the Ice Age – when temperatures in Southern California were much cooler than they are today, Leger said. Millions of years ago, the region was mainly large expanses of vegetation and wide plains of grass, shrubs and trees.

“It’s really fun to think about down the street from our office, there were camels and mammoths and mastodons roaming these areas,” she said.

The fossils have been moved to Cogstone’s lab, where they will be cleaned and delivered to either the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles or the George C. Page Museum, Leger said. 

On Wednesday, construction of Metro's Purple Line subway continued as scheduled, according to Metro's statement. 

A map of the Purple Line Extension
A map of the Purple Line Extension
LACMTA