La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

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Box 14 Level 7

Right now in Box 14, in what is left of level 7, we are mainly finding plant, coyote, dire wolf, and bird bones (along with hundreds of microfossils). The larger bones in this photo are from more than one dire wolf, as we know from finding repeats of the same bone. The birds range in size from small song bird to the large teratorn that had a 12-foot wingspan!

Saber-toothed Cat Lower Canine

Though Smilodon fatalis is more famous for its large upper canine teeth, which are the source of its common name of saber-toothed cat, we also find its lower canines, like this one, recently excavated from Box 14 of Project 23.  We've shown it here compared to a cast (copy) of a complete lower jaw.

Woodpecker research

Did you know that woodpeckers (Family Picidae) have been recovered from La Brea Tar Pits? Ornithology curator Dr. Kenneth Campbell and Dr. Zbigniew Bochenski from the Polish Academy of Sciences are currently examining all of the specimens from this family of birds that are housed in our collections. Since beginning this work a couple of weeks ago, we have already added over one hundred new cataloged records from the early excavations. Now with a clear search image for certain features on particular bones we are identifying even more woodpeckers from our current Project 23 excavation!

Owl Phalanx

This small phalanx (toe bone) recently found in Box 14 of Project 23 is from a predatory bird that we don't find here as often as we do others—an owl.  Because owls have phalanges that can be easily distinguished from other birds here at Rancho La Brea, we were able to immediately identify it.  Many different kinds of owls lived here during the Late Pleistocene, and it's yet to be determined which one this is.

Dire Wolf Pelvis

In Box 14 of Project 23, we have uncovered what appears to be a Canis dirus (dire wolf) pelvis, with all three parts still associated (together). The right and left innominates (hip bones) and the sacrum (the piece of the spine that connects the other two) are oriented together nearly the same as they would have been when the animal was alive. Usually, we here at Rancho La Brea find these three bones separate in the tangled jumble of our typical deposits, where skeletal disarticulation and mixing of bones from different individuals is the "norm".

Small Aves Furcula

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving with this small bird wishbone (furcula) recently found in Box 14!

Box 14 Large Bird Premaxilla

A large bird premaxilla (beak part) was found in Box 14 this morning! It's yet to be identified. We have been finding many birds in Box 14. They range in size from small passerines (perching birds) to the large condor-like teratorn Teratornis merriami, that had a wingspan of up to 12 feet.

Bison vertebra makes ancient jigsaw puzzle

While digging in Box 14, we recently excavated a fragment of neural spine from a large herbivore vertebra. (Neural spines are the pokey bits that make up the "bumps" you can feel running down your spine, where some of your back muscles attach.) Later, we happened to be excavating a large herbivore vertebra nearby that had a missing neural spine, and it got us thinking. Now usually, we're digging in tangled jumbles of many, many fossils, and things are rarely still associated (nearby each other).

A coyote atlas and a dire wolf maxilla in a toothy entanglement

As currently exposed in Box 14, this coyote atlas (second neck vertebra) is sitting on top of a dire wolf maxilla (upper jaw) with the dire wolf's canine going right through the space for the  coyote's spinal cord. It's a great example of how our fossils at Rancho La Brea are most often found “tangled” together. This results from the bones of many different animals being mixed together after becoming ensnared in the asphalt. The mixing may be the result of trampling and of movement of the asphalt and may take place over thousands of years.