Is this really tar? What is asphalt?
No, this is not tar. Asphalt is the lowest grade of crude oil. At Rancho La Brea, asphalt is the residue left on the surface of the ground as the lighter elements of crude oil (such as kerosene) evaporate into the atmosphere. Copious amounts of asphalt are produced as a by-product of gasoline refining. That this heavy, viscous substance is commonly called tar is misleading. Tar is a by-product of destructive distillation of woody materials, such as coal or peat.
Are the asphalt seeps restricted to the pits in Hancock Park?
Although large quantities of asphalt seeps up in the former excavation pits, visitors can also observe asphalt seeping onto the surface of the ground outside the fenced areas. In fact, asphalt seepage is not restricted to Hancock Park. For several blocks in all directions, asphalt has been found seeping onto surface streets, into sewers, and under buildings.
Where does the asphalt come from and can it be purchased?
A large petroleum reservoir called the Salt Lake Oil Field is located below the surface a short distance to the north of Hancock Park. The oil was formed from marine plankton deposited in an ocean basin during the Miocene Epoch (5-25 million years ago). Over time, pressure converted the organisms into oil. The petroleum has been migrating to the surface, either along a faulted sedimentary zone or along steeply dipping, porous sedimentary rock layers. During the last 50,000 years it has trapped and preserved animals and plants that lived in the surrounding area. The asphalt is not available for sale.
Are the skeletons made of real bones?
Nearly all of the skeletons on display are real fossil bones found at the tar pits. They have been mounted using an internal steel and wire armature. Missing bones or parts originally composed of cartilage have been reconstructed in a few instances. The Shasta ground sloth skeleton is made of plaster because the bones of this species are rare from Rancho La Brea. In addition, the Columbian mammoth and American mastodon tusks are fiberglass replicas because only fragmentary tusks have been recovered from the asphaltic deposits.
Have the remains of any dinosaurs ever been found at Rancho La Brea?
No. Dinosaurs are not found at Rancho La Brea. Dinosaurs had been extinct for 65 million years before animals and plants began to be trapped at La Brea. Actually, Los Angeles was under the ocean during the time of the dinosaurs.
What causes the bubbling in the Lake Pit?
The bubbles seen in the Lake Pit and at the excavation sites are composed mostly of methane, commonly called natural gas. Methane is a colorless and odorless gas that is used in gas-burning home appliances (the gas company adds an odor for safety reasons). Methane is produced by natural fractionation of the hydrocarbons in crude oil but is also a by-product of micro-organisms that live in the crude oil. The "rotten egg" odor is hydrogen sulfide, another by-product of hydrocarbon fractionation.
Is the Museum wheelchair accessible?
All exhibits and theaters within the Museum building are accessible for wheelchairs. Wheelchairs may enter through the Main Entrance, located on the South side of the building; follow the suggested route through the pedestrian gate adjacent to the handicapped spaces in the parking lot. Wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis and can be checked out at the Main Entrance by depositing a driver's license or other form of valid identification.
When did the La Brea Tar Pits Museum first open?
The George C. Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries opened on April 13, 1977, after a two-year period of construction. The idea of an onsite museum dedicated to the history and prehistory of Rancho La Brea was first suggested by Captain G. Allan Hancock when he deeded the 23 acres of Hancock Park to Los Angeles County in 1924. The architectural design was created by Willis Fagan and Frank Thornton of the firm Thornton and Fagan, A. I. A., and Associates of Pasadena, California. The total area of the museum is 57,000-square feet, which includes a 9,000-square feet central atrium, 20,000-square feet dedicated to collection storage, laboratories and offices, and 28,000-square feet exhibit space. In 2015, to highlight the tar pits, the museum was renamed to reflect the site itself, changing to the La Brea Tar Pits Museum.
Are tours available?
Our daily Excavator Tour (free with Museum admission) explores the Tar Pits, active excavation sites, and gets you exclusive access to the newly renovated Observation Pit. Check out our Museum’s calendar for upcoming tour times, information on how you can meet excavators and fossil preparators, and other exciting educational opportunities!
School Groups can reserve visit times, programs, and special exhibits through the School Programs page, or call 323.857.6300 x 111 for more information.
Is entrapment still occurring at Rancho La Brea?
Yes. Gallons of asphalt still ooze and bubble to the surface each day, occasionally trapping invertebrates (insects and worms), reptiles (lizards), birds (mostly pigeons, but also hawks, egrets, ducks, doves, and sparrows) and small mammals (rodents and rabbits) especially during warm days when the asphalt is stickiest.
Are any of the fossils available for sale?
The La Brea Tar Pits Museum does not sell original fossil material. However, reproductions in fiberglass resin of selected items from the Rancho La Brea collections are available for purchase through the La Brea Tar Pits Museum Store. A more extensive selection is available to museums and universities through the Collections Manager of the museum.
How many pits are there?
Over 100 fossil quarries, commonly called "pits," have been excavated since the turn of the 20th century. Those that can still be seen in Hancock Park are remnants of former excavations that have been backfilled with dirt and debris.. Five fenced areas scattered throughout Hancock Park include the Lake Pit (a remnant of commercial asphalt mining, which also contains Pits 17, 50, and the Academy Pit) and Pits 3, 4, 9, 10, 13, 61, 67, and 91. The small, circular Observation Pit located at the west end of Hancock Park displays the site of Pit 101, where visitors may view the remains of Ice Age fossils at the center of the building. The Observation Pit is open and subject to staff and volunteer availability.
What are the benefits to becoming a Museum Member?
The La Brea Tar Pits Museum is part of the Natural History Family of Museums along with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the William S. Hart Museum. Membership benefits extend to all three museums and include free admission, a subscription to our member’s publication the Naturalist, a 10% discount in the museum stores, discounts on programming, invitations to member-only events, and much more. There are multiple levels of membership and benefits vary with each level.
Is the Museum open every day?
We are open from 9:30 am - 5 pm every day except for:
- New Year's Day (January 1)
- Independence Day (July 4)
- Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thursday of November)
- Christmas Day (December 25)
Free general admission on the first Tuesday of every month except July and August.