News24

Mammoth skeleton found in LA

2009-02-20 08:48

Los Angeles - The nearly complete skeleton of a massive Columbian mammoth who died during the last ice age has been dug out of a construction site near the La Brea Tar Pits in downtown Los Angeles, a remarkable find even in the fossil-rich area, scientists said.

The mammoth, dubbed "Zed" by researchers at the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, likely died in his late 40s some 40 000 years ago and was found near an unprecedented treasure trove of fossils that workers stumbled upon while digging the foundation for an underground parking garage.

"What makes this so special, so exciting for us is that Zed is a complete specimen," laboratory supervisor Shelley Cox said while showing off his dirt-encrusted, dinner table-sized brown pelvic bone for reporters.

"And he's really big compared to the mammoths we've recovered from La Brea before," Cox said. "The tusks are considerably larger than anything we had expected."

'A rare find'

The Columbian mammoth was a species of elephant that became extinct near the end of the last ice age.

Included in the cache of fossils were some 700 specimens, including a large prehistoric American Lion skull, lion bones, bones from dire wolves, sabre-toothed cats, juvenile horse and bison, teratorn, coyotes, lynx and ground sloths.

The discovery is expected to double the size of the museum's collection.

Though the La Brea Tar Pits, in the city's mid-Wilshire district, are the site of the richest ice age deposits in the world, many fossils pulled out of the dirt and asphalt-like muck are jumbled with other bones. Mammoths are a rare find.

Like all animals discovered at the site, Zed became stuck in a tar pit along a river bed and ultimately died of exhaustion or starvation.

Skeleton '80% complete'

Researchers believe his skeleton remained largely intact because soon after he died he was washed away by a flood and then covered by enough sediment, sand and debris to keep predators from making off with parts of the carcass.

They estimate his skeleton is 80 percent complete, missing only a hind leg and a vertebrae. While most mammoth tusks, which are made up of fragile material called dentine, are only found in small chunks, Zed's are intact and a remarkable 10-feet long.

Examination of Zed's bones shows he was between 47 and 49 years old, suffered from arthritis and had broken three ribs during his lifetime, possibly in fights with other mammoths.

Carbon dating is expected to show he lived between 38 000 and 42 000 years ago and had long lain under a department store parking garage.

Reuters