Mammoth Skull Discovered Under Wilshire La Brea Metro Stop Now on View

The skull of a juvenile mammoth, discovered during excavation for the Metro Purple Line. Photo Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

This summer, guests to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum will have the opportunity to watch paleontologists prepare a mammoth skull, discovered during excavation of the Wilshire and La Brea Metro station.

Experts believe the skull dates to the Pleistocene era, as that’s when these creatures first appeared in North America.

According to Tar Pits Assistant Curator and Excavation Site Director Emily Lindsay, oftentimes only partial skulls or single tusks are found, but this one “is a complete skull with both tusks, which is a pretty remarkable find.”

Also unique, said Lindsay, is that the skull once belonged to a young mammoth, between 6 to 8 years old. Visitors will be able to compare it to a tusk that once belonged to an adult mammoth, believed to have been about 45 years old.

“Mammoths and elephants have long life spans, like humans. They spend most of their time being fully grown, so it’s sort of unusual to see a baby,” Lindsay said. “It’s really striking how different they are. [The adult tusk] is huge, so comparing the size of that with the size of the skull and tusks on the baby mammoth gives you perspective.”

It’s also fortuitous that the skull has made its way to the Tar Pits.

According to Linsday, the best time to see the paleontologists in action is Saturdays and Sundays, when they will be working on the skull, either cleaning it or repairing any broken areas. But guests will be able to view the skull every day, and there’s always something going on behind the glass.

“The Fossil Lab operates 361 days a year and always has researchers and paleontologists in there preparing materials that we find, because we excavate every day and we are sending over fossils of our own,” Lindsay said.

Visitors may also see scientists using a 3-D printer to scan and print fossil materials.

The Tar Pits have unearthed 5 million fossils to date, including over 4,000 direwolves and over 2,000 sabre-toothed cats. As such, Linsday said it’s unlikely that further Metro excavation will turn up anything they haven’t seen before. However, there is one potential find that would excite her.

“The one thing that would be really unique and would tell us something really new would be if we were to find bones of these extinct mammals that have evidence of human impact on them,” she said. “So, say something that had been butchered by humans or hunted by humans, because that tells us that humans and these extinct big animals definitely overlapped, and it gives us some clue as to why they may have gone extinct.”

The mammoth skull will remain in the lab at least through early September, eventually ending up at the Natural History Museum.

The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is located at 5801 Wilshire Boulevard. Hours are daily from 9:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Access to the Fossil Lab is included with museum admission, which begins at $12 for adults, $9 for students and seniors, and $5 for children.Parking is $12.

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