Los Angeles may be brimming with Hollywood relics (some of our most beloved big-screen actors are among them) but historical artifacts of a very different kind are the subject of a current city-wide development. The past has collided with the future: over 500 Ice Age fossils have been excavated during the LA city subway’s Purple Line expansion.
Paleontologist Ashley Leger spoke to abc7: “We are the paleontological team that’s there all day every day looking for fossils while the dirt is being moved,” she said, “and this is just an example of some of the fossils that are coming out of the three stations [La Brea Avenue, Fairfax Avenue, and La Cienega Boulevard].” Ashley then gestured to a display table showcasing an array of fascinating relics, including remnants from the skeleton of a Columbian Mammoth.
— Emily Elena Dugdale (@eedugdale) March 4, 2019
“Everything from gophers to mammoths in size,” Leger explained. “We’ve got camels and bison, horses and giant ground sloths, mammoths, mastodons, and even sabertooth cats and dire wolves.” The discovery is hugely illuminating, and tells the paleontology team a great deal about the prehistoric landscape of the Los Angeles area.
“We’re getting a beautiful picture of the Ice Age here in Southern California,” Leger said, with a broad smile.
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One of the most impressive discoveries from the ongoing excavation is “Hayden,” an almost complete, pristine white skull of an adolescent Columbian Mammoth. The skull has been spectacularly preserved and has remained intact throughout the excavation, thanks to the diligent work of the team on site. Another incredible find is the nearly complete pelvis of a giant ground sloth, jovially nicknamed “Shakira” after the famous hip-shaking Columbian singer.
Dave Sotero, a spokesperson for Metro, detailed the site of the main fossil discovery: “Most of the fossils were found at the Wilshire/La Brea site. But a lot of fossils were also found at the Wilshire/La Cienega site.” For any local readers, allow your imagination to run wild the next time you journey along Wilshire Boulevard. The road represents both the literal and figurative surface of LA history, and despite the treasures already unearthed, there’s potentially so much more to be discovered.
New hauling hours for taking the tunneling muck out of the Wilshire/La Brea Station starting Monday: http://bit.ly/2XwDJwK
“We anticipate finding additional fossils as we move forward with the second and third phase of the Purple Line construction project,” Sotero continued. He explained that the progress of the excavation could be prioritized with no disruption to the progress of the subway extension: project leaders will simply divert the construction work, temporarily, to a different area of the underground network.
Paleontologists from Cogstone, a Riverside-based company leading the excavation, are examining the mixture of clay and sands in the soil. “We’re the ones who say, ‘Stop, that doesn’t look like dirt anymore!'” paleontologist Cassidy Sharp revealed. If the paleontologists get another lead, Sotero confirmed, the project would “allow them to investigate whether that is a fossil or not.”
If you live in LA, there’s a world of ice age fossils under your feet right now, and soon you’ll be able to see some of the ones excavated during Metro’s Purple Line construction https://t.co/RpD3XOiFsb pic.twitter.com/JxbluTi2nL
— LAist (@LAist) March 5, 2019
Estimations suggest that the project will take five years to complete. And the fruits of the excavation will be everybody’s to enjoy: the fossils, dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch, are likely to be displayed at either the LA Natural History Museum or the La Brea Tar Pits.
It’s certainly a mammoth task, but the team is incredibly excited. Arguably, Sharp said it best: “You get to be the first human that has ever seen this animal before and I think that’s a really special feeling.”
Do you know anybody who lives in LA? Spread the news! Share this incredible, historical discovery with friends, family, and fossil lovers galore.