Why Mammoths and Mastodons Are Once Again Roaming at the La Brea Tar Pits

A child checks out the Columbian mammoth exhibit in La Brea Tar Pits Museum’s new interactive and Òhands-onÓ Mammoths and Mastodons exhibit in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

By RICHARD GUZMAN | riguzman@scng.com | Press Telegram

Since 1977, the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum has displayed ice age fossils found in the area that date back thousands of years. Now, people will get to see some of the titanic creatures roaming amidst the fossils with a new exhibition called “Mammoths and Mastodons.”

The traveling exhibition, created by Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, opened Dec. 21 and features life-size models and interactive displays that will be interspersed among the ice age fossils already in the museum gallery.

It’s the first significant addition to the galleries since the La Brea Tar Pits opened 41 years ago, museum officials said.

“The gallery experience has not changed much since 1977,” said Lori Bettison-Varga, president and director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, which runs the museum at the Tar Pits.

“There’s a lot more hands-on activities for the kids and I think a better understanding through the exhibition about how these mammoths and mastodons evolved and ended up here in Los Angeles in the ice age,” she said.

Here are five highlights from the new exhibition, which is expected to be on display for about a year.

1. Animals in the city

With a wall-sized image of the modern city skyline behind it, the massive tusks of an ice age Columbian mammoth rise of out the dirt as the rest of the bones of this ancient creature protrude from the ground.

It’s not only a stunning piece that gives people a peek at how these ancient animals are discovered, but it also sets the tone for what museum officials hope people will remember after they view the exhibit.

“The idea here is that these animals lived where we now live and we find their remains in our urban environments from Chicago to San Diego to L.A. So it’s through this excavation process that’s happening in our backyard right here at the Tar Pits that we get this kind of view into the ice age,” said Gretchen Baker, the museum’s vice president of exhibitions.

2. Massive mammoth

While you can see the skeletal remains of the Columbian mammoth, you can also see the gigantic animal in its lifelike glory, and you will be intimidated. An extremely convincing replica stands prominently on the exhibit floor. It rises 13 feet tall with its trunk raised and its tusks extended like deadly weapons as if they’re ready to come down on you and crush you for lunch.

It looks so real you’ll want to touch it. Go ahead, do it if you dare.

3. Hands-on fun

You’re encouraged to touch pretty much everything in the new exhibit and there are some things the kids will really want to get their hands on, like a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots-style game where opponents face off against each other in a mammoth battle.

The interactive game is made up of two mammoth heads facing each other. Just grab the handle in the back and make them wrestle with their tusks. It’s not clear how you win, but it’s fun to clash with these ancient weapons.

And while this may gross out parents, it’ll likely make kids laugh out loud when they check out the prehistoric potty station.

Since scientists can learn a lot about animals by their droppings, there’s a section where you’ll see fake but very realistic-looking animal droppings. The idea is to try to guess which animal made the mess. After you take a guess you can then lift the droppings to reveal the animal. Don’t worry if you stink at it, even for scientists it’s not always easy to figure out who left the mess.

4. Family tree

The Trunks and Tusks portion of the new exhibit is where you will see the evolution of mammoths and mastodons dating back millions of years. You’ll see lifelike heads hanging on walls representing animals such as Phiomia, a mini-elephant looking animal who lived in Northern Africa about 37 to 30 million years ago and the colossal Amebelodon, who lived about 15 to 5 millions years ago.

Amebelodon is about the size of a modern elephant and was one of the earliest elephant ancestors to inhabit North America.

And go ahead and touch the heads, since the museum is literally asking you to do it with signs underneath each model that read “Please touch!”

5. See the big baby

Even though she’s been dead for more than 40,000 years, you’ll ooh and aah at the site of Lyuba, a baby woolly mammoth found in Siberia in 2007. The museum exhibit is an exact replica of the real thing, and while she doesn’t quite look cute enough to pet, you can still see some baby features in her head.

If You Go:
When: 9:30 a.m. -5 p.m. Monday-Sunday. Mammoths and Mastodons: At La Brea Tar Pits will be up for approximately one year.

Where: 5801 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

Admission: Museum admission is $15 for adults; $12 for college students and seniors,; $12 for youth ages 13-17 and $7 for children ages 3-12.

Information: 323-934-7243, tarpits.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *