La Brea Tar Pits reveals huge cache of fossils

The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits already has plenty of fossils from the Ice Age. But the museum announced a "mammoth" discovery that could double the size of its collection. KPCC's Brian Watt went down to check out the bones.

Brian Watt: These new fossils, if you can call a fossil "new," aren't soaking in tar.They're embedded in dirt that's now stored in 23 huge wooden crates in the park behind the L.A. County Museum of Art. Excavator Andrea Thomer points to what she's uncovered in just a small area of Box Number 1.

Andrea Thomer: Two shoulder blades from saber tooth cats, hip bone from a dire wolf, a rib from a baby horse right here.

Watt: Thomer's been picking through this soil for seven months. So far, she's helped uncover 700 specimens and two dozen different animals.

Thomer: And that looks like a femur or a thigh bone from a coyote.

Watt: So where did all the dirt come from? Construction crews dug it out when the L.A. County Museum of Art got ready to put in an underground parking structure nearby.John Harris, the chief curator at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, wasn't surprised when more fossils turned up.

John Harris: The fossils that we find here were trapped in asphalt that's come up from the salt lake oil field beneath us, and so you're likely to find fossils anywhere in a radius of two miles from Hancock Park.

Watt: When builders go digging in the area, they bring along monitoring crews so a bulldozer won't give a buzz cut to an old fossilized bison. But Harris and his staff were surprised at the volume of the find: Sixteen fossil deposits that they expect to yield millions of specimens. The star of the discovery is the skeleton of a Columbian mammoth, complete with tusks. The paleontologists call him "Zed." Laboratory Supervisor Shelley Cox showed off Zed's jaw bone and his pelvis.

Shelley Cox: We've got environmental information to go along with him to get a better idea of what food resource he was tapping into. Why he was walking down Wilshire Boulevard 40,000 years ago. His life history.

Watt: The Page Museum has the money to cover the cost of excavating the find for the next five years.So visitors to the park at the La Brea Tar Pits can stop by and watch as paleontologists scrape and sift the dirt in search of old bones from ancient L.A.