L.A.'s Oldest Tourist Trap At Rancho La Brea, death has been the pits for millennia Sid Perkins Cruise Los Angeles' Wilshire Boulevard and, when you reach the 5800 block, you'll often catch a whiff of fresh tar. Most likely, it won't be coming from a road or roofing crew, but you'll have a big clue to its source. On the north side of the boulevard, there's a life-size fiberglass model of a terrified mammoth stuck hip-deep in goo. The figure marks one of the world's most well-known fossil- bearing locales: the La Brea tar pits. "I certainly know when I've reached work each morning," says John Harris, a curator at the George C. Page Museum there. This 57,000-square-foot facility houses the millions of bones unearthed at the site. Most of those bones, which began accumulating in the tar pits about 44,000 years ago, were exhumed early in the 1900s, says Harris. Following a half-century hiatus in collecting, due in part to a backlog of specimens and changing museum priorities, scientists in 1969 began more-thorough excavations at one of the park's sites. Data from those more-modern digs are yielding a wealth of information about the region's ecosystems during recent ice ages and interglacial periods. A simple tally of which body parts have been preserved in the tar-laced sediments is shedding light on prehistoric food chains. Also, sophisticated chemical analyses of the bones themselves are yielding surprising details about how the animals succumbed to the pits and what happened to them in their final, wrenching hours. Read the rest at Science News http://www.sciencenews.org/20040124/bob9.asp Comment: The article is reasonably long, so don't be too judgemental of the first section. -- Posted by Robert Karl Stonjek.