I’ve been fascinated by the La Brea Tar Pits since I first heard about them as a child. I still haven’t been there. But my husband was there last week, the bastard. I forgive him, though, since he bought me a smilodon. This smilodon, actually:
Pretty cool, huh? I know you’re jealous. Other women might prefer jewels or expensive shoes, but my husband knows what I want. He admits to hoping our cats would see it and think, “What did that big cat do to piss Daddy off?” and turn into perfect little Ceiling Cats. But no, they were unimpressed.
The smilodon is often called a saber-toothed tiger, but they were not actually tigers. They were very large felines with short tails and a heavy, muscular body. They went extinct about 10,000 years ago. More smilodon bones have been recovered at the La Brea Tar Pits than those from any other animal except for the dire wolf (yes, they really existed outside of fantasy books.)
La Brea is known as a predator trap. Tens of thousands of years ago (the oldest material found is from 38,000 years ago) a lake formed over a depression full of “tar,” actually a type of heavy oil called asphaltum. As animals walked into the water to drink, they got stuck. Their cries of alarm drew predators, who also got stuck.
Scientists have found fossils of dire wolves, smilodons, short-faced bears, mammoths, ground sloths, American camels, cougars, coyotes, American lions, bison, horses and many more animals. They’ve also recovered birds, reptiles, fish and insects, as well as one human woman who may have been ceremonially interred about 10,000 years ago.
My husband reported that the area’s smell reminded him of repairing a roof in Florida in the summer. He said the water was the color of coffee and the asphalt floated to the surface, looking like thick black pond scum. The water emits methane bubbles, which according to George, “looked like something very large farted in the bathtub.”
If you are ever in Los Angeles and have the opportunity, make sure to see the La Brea Tar Pits and the fabulously fanged smilodons.