On Wednesday, December 11, La Brea Tar Pits will be closing at 3pm for a special event. We apologize for any inconvenience.

Excavations

Pit 91

Excavations

We have excavated over 3.5 million fossils from the Tar Pits, and we’re still digging!

Live Excavations

Discover science in action at La Brea Tar Pits.

How we excavate

Ever wonder how paleontologists at the Tar Pits excavate fossils?

  • We discover a fossil deposit. The bones from different animals are usually jumbled together. We rarely find whole skeletons.
  • We lay out a grid on the top of the deposit so that we can record where each of the bones comes from. We establish a datum point from which to measure the depth of the fossils.
  • We select tools according to the kind of dirt around the fossils. We use hammers and chisels on hard areas that lack fossils. We use dental picks when working near the fossils.
  • We carefully remove the dirt from around each fossil. This dirt (or matrix) is then stored for later processing as it often contains other tiny specimens that can only be detected in the Fossil Lab.
  • We measure the position and orientation of each fossil before removing it from the grid. This will help us understand how the deposit was formed.
  • We take photographs and record all measurements for each fossil in a field notebook. A copy of this field information accompanies the fossil when it is sent to the museum for cleaning and curation.