Essay about La Brea Tar Pits

2571 Words Sep 1st, 2008 11 Pages
La Brea Tar Pits Introduction
The La Brea tar pits have been well-known for over a century. Before the rise of European settlers, local Indian tribes used the tar to caulk canoes and waterproof tents. As the Industrial Revolution took off the early 1900s, the tar pits attracted oil men, as asphaltum is often associated with petroleum. Then,

[w]hen W. W. Orcutt, the original organizer of the geological department of Union Oil of California, reexamined the area in 1901, he discovered "a vast mosaic of white bones" on the surface of a pool of asphalt--the skeleton of a giant ground sloth, a huge armored animal that had been extinct for millions of years. As paleontologists subsequently probed the La Brea tar pits, it became obvious
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Given this evidence, and the fact that modern big cats often use their rough tongues to rasp flesh off bones, it seems probable that sabertooths were quite capable of both dismembering and thoroughly finishing a kill up to the bone-cracking stage. (p. 113)

Thus, while the teeth may have been impressive, they were not invulnerable, and likely worked much the same way current big cats use their smaller teeth. This also works as evidence to the idea that humans may have scavenged off saber-tooth kills. Again, the La Brea samples come in handy: "Four large carnivores are well represented at La Brea—the sabertooth cat Smilodon fatalis, the giant American lion, Panthera atrox, the dire wolf, Canis dirus, and the coyote, C. latrans. All four exhibit a remarkably high incidence of teeth that fractured in life, three to five times the incidence observed in extant large predators such as the lion and spotted hyena." (Stanford and Bunn 2001, p. 115)

Interaction with Scavengers and Humans What was going on with the large number of broken teeth — teeth broken in life, that is, and not via the process of fossilization? One theory is that "kleptoparasitism as the explanation for the high incidence of broken teeth in Rancho La Brea carnivores. They argued that high predator densities led to more frequent kleptoparasitism, which

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