Dinosaurs in the Southland and from the Pleistocene to Pop Culture

Friday, July 22, 2011

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County opened its new Dinosaur Hall, a permanent exhibition featuring hundreds of dinosaur fossils and 20 complete mounts of dinosaurs and other Mesozoic creatures. The new display marks an important milestone in a seven-year, $135 million transformation of the museum, and it also brings new attention to the prehistory of Southern California.

In 1901, Union Oil geologist William Orcutt was surveying an area then known as Hancock Ranch when he discovered fossilized bones in pools of asphalt. The pools--today known as the La Brea Tar Pits--have since proven to be one of the world's richest paleontological sites, yielding more than 1 million fossils since excavation began in 1906.

The bones and fossilized plants preserved in the tar revealed to scientists a starkly different L.A. landscape than what we see today. Southern California in the Pleistocene--a geologic epoch that ended roughly 11,700 years ago--was inhabited by large mammals that bore a striking resemblance to the animals today seen in zoos or on safaris. Two species of elephant--the Columbian mammoth and imperial mammoth--grazed the Southern California grasslands. Their cousin, the American mastodon, joined a host of other now-extinct herbivores, from camels to ground sloths. These animals provided plenty of reasons for large carnivores, which included American lions, dire wolves, and saber-toothed cats, to roam prehistoric Los Angeles. The largest of them--the short-faced bear--would dwarf modern grizzlies, standing over 11 feet tall on its hind legs.

For more information related to dinosaurs, visit rareresource.com.


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