29 December 2010

Winter Update

It has been cold. And rainy. But this has not stopped us from accomplishing a lot both outside and inside.

Current matters of the digging kind:

1. Box 7A is almost done!

Katlynn Thompson on the 7A throne
and volunteer Katlynn Thompson makes excavating the rest of it look easy

2. Box 14 has been exposed down to more levels.

After removing more fill and plastic we have exposed more of the deposit edges and found more boards, metal bands, crumbling sides, buried artifacts from initial excavation (electrical wiring and a tupper-ware lid) and discovered this:

box 14 hole
??? A hole in the west side edge of the deposit.

Recent finds of the ancient kind in 14 include:

dire wolf sacrum
Dire wolf sacrum found at bottom of level 3

proximal humerus of Little Timmy
Little Timmy's humeri. Here is the proximal end of one standing exposed. It has an old break that caliche filled. This end was removed at that break and the rest of the bone lies in level 4. We also have its other humerus lying to the west in L4.

coyote skull under hard asphalt
A coyote skull, seen under the dark hard asphalt in this picture.
It's molars are in the lower center.

caliche layer
We continue to be captivated in curiosity by box 14 caliche. This is the top of a layer of it that we exposed in grid D-3 L4.

caliche in D3-L4 wall
Here is a cross-section of caliche in the D-3 L4 south wall.

caliche close-up
And a closer look because we love it so much.

Recent excavator activities of the non-digging kind

Last month excavators and Aisling took some time to make 2 new temporary museum exhibits featuring findings from Project 23. After putting some good use to the many cold rainy days of December, we now have an exhibit about the taphonomy of our box 1 American lion "Fluffy" and an exhibit about how box 5B was excavated and what we found. Come check them out in the Page Museum near the "fishbowl"!

Also, we have been starting to screen-wash non-asphaltic matrix buckets from box 5B to see if they are sterile. Here Michelle and Karin break apart matrix of different soil types within a grid that have been soaking in water.
screen washing

We are planning on having a larger washing station made for us so we can quickly sort through
the buckets

Stay warm!
pit squirrel warming up

20 October 2010

Trevor's Lab Update and words on National Fossil Day

19 October 2010


It has been eventful times this fall. Aside from uncovering hundreds of new fossils we've been involved in a couple other fun activities like speaking to volunteer Mary Simun's AP Environmental Studies class and having a table at NHM's Haunted Museum where we educated on the 3 sloths found at RLB

NHMs Haunted Museum

Also, there have been some major staffing changes. We celebrated Chris Shaw's retirement and are also now fully staffed (except for Collections Manager) Karin Rice and Laura are now full-time, and Christina Lutz is part-time. Congrats to all!

Now for some needed box updates!

I know that some are wondering what has been up with box 1, and that is...a bit of remodeling, pedestaling, and power digging. Box 1 currently has some of the most curious and hardest grids to excavate which has lead us to take slightly different approaches to traditional digging. We are now "pedestaling" around the main fossil deposit in the south end. This means taking the matrix around the bones down to deeper grid levels without removing the bones. This creates a side view of how they are in place which helps us see how the deposit formed. To easier accomplish that excavation approach a "window" was removed from the south wall next to the bones so that someone can stand outside the box and excavate from the side as Tara demonstrates here, working across from Michelle.


The rest of the open grids in box 1 are sterile and difficult which means its time to bring out the power tools if we want to get this box done in the next 10 years. Michelle and I have been using the pneumatic hammer and Herb brought in his electric hammer which proved very useful in clearing out half of a grid in one day. Here's Michelle digging her "hole to China" in a hard sterile grid next to the bone deposit.

Michelle in box 1 hole

And 7A?

Since 7A was re-opened on the 7th of July all of the "C" grids from level 3 to the bottom boards have been completed (roughly 4 tons of matrix) and now we are well into the B grids

box 7A 10-26

The major fossil finds are 3 horse cervical vertebrae. Other bones have been sparse - just a few bones from smaller animals and random worn large bone frags. There are however gastropods galore

striped-shell from 7A

And some neat geology has been revealed, such as this wavy silt/clay structure that was probably created by asphalt deforming soft sediment

Box 7A Sedimentary Structure

Volunteers have been great at chiseling though the tough old asphaltic stream beds of 7A.

Pat Simun helps in 7A

Everyone still loves the safety glasses which are a necessity in 7A...but will they protect Karin from Justin's apparent backstabbing...?

we love our safety glasses

With their help, including the "Master Chiseler" Jack (aka The Chiserater, Jack the Chipper, or The Grand Chizier) who competes with Herb as to who can produce the most buckets in a day, we will probably have this box finished within the next couple of months.

And there's continual awesomeness in the large box 14 deposit:

I like to call it a fossil buffet

Here's a closer look at the dire wolf skull that was "biting" our box 14 juvenile mastodon's scapula


Both of Little Timmy's scapulae and a humerus have been exposed. Plus...we found the back of a sloth skull! And recently a coracoid from a teratorn, the largest bird found at RLB - its a giant condor with a wingspan of 12 feet!

Box 14 also has this

mysterious caliche surrounding bone

See those bluish-gray bands that surround the brown bone? That is a caliche that has never been seen at RLB before and its formation is still somewhat of a mystery...speaking of which...did anybody catch the Page Museum featured in the Travel Channel's "Mysteries at the Museum" show that aired last week?

14 October 2010

an overdue farewell

Hey asphaltophiles,

This is old news to some of you, and of no consequence to others, BUT:

As you may or may not have noticed, I (Andie) have not been posting to this little blog. And that's because I am no longer an excavatrix! About two months ago I packed up my 18-year-old Honda and drove to the lovely twin cities of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I am in grad school for library and information science, with a specialization in data curation! It's super duper fascinating, I promise.

Carrie, senior excavatrix extraordinaire (and maybe others) has and will continue to update the blog, time permitting. Seeing as she is fully awesome, the blog under her guidance has been (and will be!) fully awesome as well.

So please, wish me luck in the soon-to-be-frozen north as my Californian blood is frozen solid this winter and my brain is filled with way too much information about information. And best of luck to all the diggers, present and future, of La Brea: may your trowels find tapirs, and your discovery marks be few.


26 September 2010

The Great Volunteer Bucket Moving Day

On September 21, for about 2 hours, the Page Museum was graced with 100 UCLA freshman's extra pairs of hands as part of their Volunteer Day event, in which more than 4500 freshmen are involved in city-wide community service. When we were approached by them for work we thought it to be a great opportunity to get some needed gardening, painting, and matrix bucket moving done.

Project 23 was given 30 of the volunteers and a few of their captains to help us organize our buckets by concentrating buckets from each box to one location and ordering by grid, with each specific grid bucket being counted. Since having that many people in the compound at one time is a bit terrifying they were divided into 5 groups for each deposit with each group being supervised by a staff member (Michelle, Laura, and I) or volunteer (Karin and Christina) Taking time out from supervising the new garden addition, Aisling captured our bucket moving moments.

Here Laura explains to her freshmen how exactly they will be moving buckets onto the fancy platforms that we constructed to protect bucket bottoms from rusting.


The volunteers were very enthusiastic to help move buckets for science



The driveway was utilized to pre-sort buckets for box 1 and 5b.


There were a lot of buckets to move and sort! We could have used the students all day because the two hours of time was not enough. The job was finished by myself and others including Trevor, Herb, Christina, Jean, Jack, Jenna, and Justin during 2 days following. It was a lot of work but the students were super helpful in doing the majority of the moving and now gathering data about each deposit and processing matrix will be much easier.

We now have the more convenient ability to know exactly how many buckets have been produced from each box and each grid. Here's some results:

Number of buckets per completed box:
Box 5b - 541
Box 7B - 267
Box 10A - 191
Box 10B - 91

For boxes still in progress:
Box 1 - 428
Box 7a - 279
Box 14 - 71

This gives a grand total of 1868 buckets produced in the past 2 years, 1724 of which were moved that day. That is an average of 74720 pounds (37 tons) of matrix that has been excavated out of Project 23 over the past 2 years. With 19 boxes left to finish that could mean about 100 more tons of matrix left to go.

Many thanks to all of those involved!

15 August 2010

Introducing Box 14

Excavation of deposit 14 has been underway for almost 2 months now and has been very fruitful, as expected, due to what we have already seen in the amount of spill-over fossils that were put in buckets when the deposit was removed from the ground, as demonstrated here by Andie in a previous blog. But before we could poke our dental picks in the top asphaltic sugar sand already showing signs of large bone we had to transform the highly awkward box into something we could work with.

This is how it came to us, after protective tarp removed

box 14 uncovered

The actual deposit is the darker colored sediment in the center. It fell apart when they were trying to excavate it and came to us wrapped with a few boards and metal bands, then plastic, and then supported by tons of the sterile "fill" dirt within the space of the tall box.

box 14 surface

Box excavation preparation included cutting the metal bands that crossed over the top of the box, assembling scaffolding, removing front top board so the public can see us work, affixing handrails for easier boarding, setting up a shade canopy, and determining grid lines, and then box 14 was ready for digging!

box 14 scaffolding

The fossiliferous asphaltic sugar sand midsection of the deposit is relatively easy to dig in. It softly peels and crumbles away from the bone. We never have it completely easy though, as within it there are also spots of hard oxidized asphalt as well as bones that have already been fractured. Given that the deposit was disturbed upon excavation we also have not been taking three point orientation measurements of bones as they are believed to be disrupted from their original position. The only data thus far taken has been the grid and level that the fossil is found in.

Included in what we have found so far:

  • 2 large hervibore vertebrae including sloth
  • 1 coyote skull
  • 1 dire wolf skull, tibia, radius
  • 2 juvenile saber-toothed cat mandibles
  • lots of bird - including golden eagle skull, teratorn sized limb bones, male
    turkey, and hawk
  • "lots of turtle" - according to Trevor there are at least 3 individuals
  • pieces of juvenile mastodon skull including a maxilla with teeth that
    indicate its young age, possibly younger than any mastodon in the RLB
    collection, along with a tibia

    Meet "Snuffleupagus" or "Dumbo"

    field photo
    juvenile mastodon field photo

    after some cleaning by Henry

    Also, here's an example of what the main fossil deposit in 14 looks like
    box 14 grid C3/L2

    and the bird beak I found (my first), which is eagle sized

    and the perfect furcula from a medium sized hawk that Michelle found

    Deposit 14 has been worked down two levels and in order to continue we
    have started removing fill dirt so that we can remain excavating from the deposit's side. Last week bucket by bucket we removed over a ton of fill. Literally. Thank you Sunday volunteers Karin Rice, Bruce Fischer, and Katelynn Simpson for being awesome dirt movers!

    Now this is 14's current look
    deposit 14 at level 2 floor

    In other P23 news the reopening of the rather non-fossiliferous deposit 7a has yielded 3 horse cervical vertebrae and progress has been excellent in box 1. More updates are to come!!!

  • 14 July 2010

    Farewell to Deposit 5b

    Box 5b is done. We started in early November, and after 8 months there is now an empty spot in front of box 14. The "June gloom" weather during the last days of 5b matched the sadness we felt in knowing that the excitement of 5b would soon be gone. We had a good time discovering its intriguing asphalt infused stratigraphy and cool fossils including:

    • Clyde, the partially articulated camel
    • Alphie, the juvenile mammoth
    • Little Timmy the juvenile coyote
    • Pepe the weasle
    • and a yet to be named rattlesnake.

    The last noticeable fossils in 5b were freshwater snails and plant in asphaltic sediment and the bottom layer consisted of virtually sterile partially asphalt infused greenish gray clay.


    Here Laura works with volunteers Cheyenne Robinson and Pat and Mary Simun to extract the last remains of fossils at this level
    Working on last of 5b

    Michelle joined them for a time out to capture the adoration for our special safety glasses

    Sporting our Safety Glasses


    Volunteer Herb Schiff hammers through the final remains
    Herb Schiff finishing 5b

    5b's last clay lumps

    And then there was none.

    5b is gone!

    5b last boards

    Depending on who you ask one highlight of finishing a box is discovering who has been living underneath it. As the final bottom boards were lifted there was an unveiling of slugs, crickets, brown widows, black widows, and some other unidentifiable by me spiders and insects.

    Well hello!

    Spiders under 5b

    Box 14, the large box situated behind 5b and next to box 1 is the next to be opened. It is a partially slumped deposit which means complete measurement of fossils will be limited to what we know is for sure in situ. The idea is to quickly work through the thousands of fossils we will find slumped in the easier to excavate asphaltic "sugar sands" and the area it sits will then be used for bucket storage.

    We also look forward to meeting the other half of 5 on the other side of the compound someday hopefully soon to learn more about deposit 5 geology and see if we can find more of Clyde and Alphie.

    06 June 2010


    When we last left our heroes:


    They were digging away at deposit 5B. And the still are! The deposit has shrunk considerably from its original size, but excavators are still looking for more elements of Clyde, our partially articulated, partially complete Camelops hesternus.

    As you may remember from two posts ago, we had most recently exposed his almost perfectly articulated 7th cervical and first thoracic vertebrae, and were pleased to find that his 6th cervical vertebra wasn't too far off:


    Here's a closer look; volunteer Henry is holding a clean Camelops hesternus 6th cervical vertebra from our collection for comparison.

    1) neural spine -- 2) postzygapophyses -- 3) prezygopophyses -- 4) henry

    We have no idea why the 7th cervical and 1st thoracic verts stayed articulated over 10-40k years, while the 6th cervical wandered off a foot and a half to the north. However, we do know that this brings our tally of camel bones from deposit 5b to:
    -1 skull
    -1 jaw
    - 8 thoracic vertebrae
    -2 cervical vertebrae
    - 1 right humerus
    - assorted rib fragments
    - 1 camel toe
    - and maybe a femur, but we're not sure on that yet

    25 April 2010

    project 23 on 'best of la'

    Hey, we're on tv! Again! Video below features Dr. John Harris & Trevor Valle speaking, and Carrie Howard, Meena Madan, and Tara Thara excavating (and Aisling Farrell and myself for approx 2 seconds a piece, which is perfectly a-ok, because being on tv is scary). "Best of LA," check it out (email subscribers -- I think you'll have to click through to actual blog to view, sorry):

    EDIT: UGH embed does not seem to be working. Here is link: http://bestoflatv.com/view/1185

    24 April 2010

    why working in a public park is fun.

    Little kid questions of the week (both addressed to Carrie):

    Small child: "Do you guys ever find anything besides bones in there?"
    Carrie: "Like what?"
    Small child: "Like weapons??"

    I'm sure the kid meant spearheads, but my mind went instantly to a giant ground sloth holding a rifle.

    Small child: "Why do they save all the dirt?"
    Carrie: "We will look through it for microfossils."
    Small child: "Microfossils... ohhhh like ancient germs??"

    Now that one, I suppose, depends on what you consider a germ... We do get asphalt-eating bacteria, after all...

    One of the most frequent questions we get from park visitors is, "what do you do when it rains?"

    it's raining, it's pouring
    clearly, you SMILE ADORABLY like laura

    Well, as we've had to do more than once recently, we.... go inside. Despite our dirt-covered faces and tar-stained jeans, we are CIVILIZED after all (although to be fair, if it's only raining a little, and we've got a decent tarp rigged up, at least half the staff will opt to stay outdoors: "it smells nice!").

    But this is California: we don't really have weather.

    carrie and christina
    this photo was taken in february; they're smiling because it's 80 degrees out. sorry, everywhere else.

    People also ask which is better: digging in the cold, or digging in the heat. After several years of excavatrix-ing, I've become quite the connoisseur of digging conditions. Colder days have their advantages -- the asphalt "freezes" to the point that it chips off in these nice ovoid fragments -- conchoidal fractures, as in flint -- and you can get rid of big chunks of sterile dirt at one time.

    And sometimes you find neat stuff in between the fractured pieces:

    beetle wing imprint in asphalt
    imprint of an insect wing, photo by the awesome carrie howard

    more millipedes

    However, cold days mean no detail work -- no dental picking! Which means no working on awesome stuff like these two articulated camel vertebrae (still from Clyde, our camel in 5B):

    articulated camel vertebrae

    Cold days, for me, also mean I'm at least 83% more likely to hit my left thumb with my own hammer before 9:30am. But I'm weird.

    Warmer days, like I said, mean detail work:

    beetle head?
    i'm not sure what insect or which part this is, but it's neat

    ice age termite gnaw marks!
    more amazing photos by Carrie

    Termite gnaw marks from the Pleistocene -- very cool. The keen-eyed excavator that got them out intact -- possibly cooler (I bet it was Carrie -- apparently this is We Love Carrie week).

    ice age termite gnaw marks!

    So, warm days = melty asphalt and pretty fossils. However, warm days eventually turn into hot days, which eventually turn into oh-my-god-i'm-dying-get-me-an-iced-tea. We've got another 2 months until then, though.

    Another keen-eyed excavator (your truly, to tell the truth) spotted a new instance of the family Suidae at Rancho La Brea....

    wait a second....
    yes, it's a pot-bellied pig. no, it's not george clooney's. damn.

    but, alas, not exactly Pleistocene in age...