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Scientists find cache of Ice Age fossils

SCIENTISTS are studying a huge cache of Ice Age fossil deposits recovered near the famous La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles, California.

Among the finds is a near-intact mammoth skeleton, a skull of an American lion and bones of saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, bison, horses and other mammals.

Researchers discovered 16 fossil deposits under an old parking lot next to the tar pits in 2006 and began sifting through them last summer. The mammoth remains, including 3-meter-long tusks, were in an ancient riverbed near the fossil cache.

Officials of the Page Museum at the tar pits planned to formally announce their findings late yesterday. The discoveries could double the museum's Ice Age collection.

Such a rich find usually takes years to excavate. But with a deadline looming to build an underground parking garage for the next-door art museum, researchers boxed up the deposits and lifted them out of the ground using a massive crane.

"It's like a paleontological Christmas," research team member Andie Thomer wrote in a blog post in July.

The research, dubbed "Project 23" because it took 23 boxes to house the deposits, uncovered fossilized mammals as well as smaller animals including turtles, snails and insects. Separately, scientists found a well-preserved Columbian mammoth that they nicknamed Zed.

An examination reveals Zed, which is 80 percent complete, had arthritic joints and several broken and re-healed ribs, a sign he suffered a major injury during his life.

"It's looking more and more as if Zed lived a pretty rough life," Thomer blogged in December.

Some scientists not connected with the discovery said that this is the first significant fossil find since the original excavations at the tar pits more than a century ago.

"Usually these things are either lost in the mixing or not recovered in the processing of the oily sand and soil they occur in," said paleontologist Jere H. Lipps of the University of California, Berkeley.

The La Brea Tar Pits ranks among the world's famous fossil sites. Between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, mammoths, mastodons, saber-tooth cats and other Ice Age beasts became trapped by sticky asphalt oozing through cracks and fissures in the ground.


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