Why, with a collection of more than 3.5 million fossils, do we keep digging? Don't we have enough fossils? Do we really expect to find anything new?
What Is Project 23?
In 2006, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) began work on a new underground parking garage. During the course of construction, 16 new fossil deposits were discovered, including the semi-articulated, largely complete skeleton of an adult mammoth. How could we get out of the way of the bulldozers but save the fossils? We built large wooden boxes around each deposit, 23 in all. The boxes were moved to their present location immediately north of the Pit 91 complex, and excavation began on "Project 23." In addition to the boxes, there were 327 buckets of fossil material recovered from the LACMA salvage site for paleontologists to clean and sort through. It's going to keep us busy for years!
Pit 91: Science in the Heart of L.A.
Pit 91 is the only long-term excavation effort of the La Brea Tar Pits--museum staff has been exploring it for approximately 40 years. Work began in 1915, but back then, the site was not roofed, and it eventually caved it. In 1969, paleontologists returned to Pit 91 to continue excavating, and in 1976, the viewing station, which allowed visitors to look directly into the pit and watch excavators working, opened. Pit 91 was dug year-round from 1969 to 1980, then ceased. It opened in 1984 for two weeks during the Olympics, and proved so popular that the pit was opened once more for a summer season. Now every summer, the excavators are back!
Discoveries Made Daily
We find something new every week, if not every day. Not a new species necessarily, but things like a new and uniquely laid out deposit of fossils, or new information on the geology of the deposit. Mini-discoveries like these help color our continually evolving picture of the Pleistocene in Los Angeles. Now, new species are difficult to come by, but with Project 23, we have sheer volume on our side. With the amount of fossiliferous dirt we have to dig through, we'd be surprised if we didn't discover a new type of animal. Research demands more data! Databases demand more data entry! And basic human curiosity demands that we slowly, steadily, someday reach the bottom of our inverted Everest.