There’s been a lot of buzz today about “100 years of digging” at Los Angeles’ La Brea Tar Pits, but the claim just doesn’t add up. In fact, scientific excavations began under paleontologist John C. Merriam of the University of California in 1906 — 107 years ago. Merriam was alerted to the fossil beds by William Orcutt, a geologist with the Union Oil Company of California (later Unocal) who recognized the fossilized remains of an extinct species of ground sloth while exploring the asphalt deposits in 1901.
Perhaps the Natural History Museum (founded in 1913 as the Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art) is celebrating 100 years of its own involvement in the diggings?
In any case, there were discoveries even earlier than 1901. Certainly the region’s native Tongva people stumbled across some prehistoric remains, and in the 1870s the owner of Rancho La Brea, Henry Hancock, found some fossils, though he didn’t realize their importance. If you have access to JSTOR, you can read an account of the 1901 discovery courtesy of The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly.
Update: I corrected an earlier misspelling of Merriam’s name.
Photo by Flickr user andy castro. Used under a Creative Commons license.