Historic Research at Rancho La Brea

The first scientific article mentioning the fossils of Rancho La Brea was by William Denton, published by the Boston Society of Natural History in 1875.

However, it was not until the early 1900s, after W.W. Orcutt, a well known Los Angeles geologist, had amassed a collection of saber-toothed cat, dire wolf, and ground sloth fossils that the site's importance was widely recognized. Explorations by the University of California, the Southern California Academy of Sciences, and Los Angeles High School retrieved large collections of fossils from the site in the first decade of the 1900's. In 1913, the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art was built in Exposition Park in part to house the fossils collected by the Southern California Academy of Sciences. Later that year the Hancock family gave sole permission to the newly-renamed Los Angeles County Museum (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County—we know, the name changes are exhausting) to excavate for two years at Rancho La Brea. The result was an immense collection that provided valuable insight to our understanding of the late Pleistocene fauna and flora of North America.


Chester Stock, Ph.D. (1892-1950)
Chief Curator 1948-1950
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Chester Stock was a Berkeley graduate, a co-founder of the Geology Department at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, CA, and was appointed Chief Curator of Science at the then Los Angeles County Museum in 1948. Working first under the supervision of eminent paleontologist John C. Merriam and later as his colleague, Stock's contributions to the study of Pleistocene fossils, particularly the fauna of Rancho La Brea, are still highly regarded. A record of Pleistocene life in California published in 1930 was the first scientific work published by the Natural History Museum and is now in its seventh edition. Reprints of his numerous publications and much of his correspondence are now housed in the archives of the Stock Memorial Library at the George C. Page Museum. In 1951 George Gaylord Simpson published a biography of Stock (National Academy Biographical Memoirs 27:335-362). Stock built an impressive collection of vertebrate fossils at Caltech by organizing expeditions throughout the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. This program ended after Stock's untimely death in 1950. In 1957, the collection amassed by Stock and his students was purchased by the Natural History Museum and now forms a significant portion of the museum's vertebrate paleontology holdings.

Hildegarde Howard, Ph.D. (1901-1998)
Chief Curator 1951-1961
The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Hildegarde Howard had a long association with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, beginning her career as an assistant for the museum's osteologist J.W. Lytle while studying for her undergraduate degree at the southern branch of the University of California. Howard obtained her Ph.D. from Berkeley on "Avifauna of Emeryville Shellmound," a publication that is still highly regarded by avian paleontologists. Her one hundred and forty publications included much more than the avifauna of Rancho La Brea. She was also the recipient of the prestigious Brewster Medal for outstanding research in the field of avian paleontology from the American Ornithologists Union. In 1991 she donated her original notes and manuscripts to the archives of the Stock Memorial Library at the George C. Page Museum.

Roy Moody, Ph.D. (1880-1934)
Research Associate
The Wellcome Research Institution

Roy Moody was an anatomist, librarian, and teacher of paleontology before retiring from teaching on the grounds of ill health. It was then that he began his pioneering work of paleopathology at Rancho La Brea. This was the perfect place for his studies, as the collection has thousands of well preserved pathologic specimens. Just prior to his untimely death he finished but did not publish his manuscript titled "Paleopathology of the California Sabertooth and other Felidae." This is available from the archives of the Wellcome Foundation in England.