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International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) Announces Complete List of The First 100 Geological Heritage Sites

Los Angeles County’s La Brea Tar Pits is designated among seven other U.S. sites; Iconic L.A. fossil site is being recognized during celebratory conference in Zumaia, Spain, October 25–28



lake pit museum in background la brea tar pits

Los Angeles, CA (October 26, 2022)—Following the September 2022 announcement that La Brea Tar Pits, part of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), was selected as one of The First 100 IUGS Geological Heritage Sites, the International Union of Geological Sciences has announced the full list of 100 sites during its 60th Anniversary conference in Zumaia, Basque Coast, Spain, at the UNESCO Global Geopark. A new designation similar to UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, IUGS Geological Heritage Sites are key places with geological elements and/or processes of international scientific relevance and those that represent a substantial contribution to the development of geological sciences through history and understanding of the Earth. The only geological site in an urban area, La Brea Tar Pits has been identified by IUGS as the richest Pleistocene (“Ice Age”) fossil site on Earth, and as the key paleontological site that has shaped the understanding of climate change for both scientists and the public.

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) is one of the World’s largest scientific organizations with 121 national members representing over a million geoscientists. The presentation of the First 100 IUG Geological Heritage Sites kicks off an endeavor to designate geological sites from around the world that are iconic, recognized by all of the geoscience community for their impact in understanding the Earth and its history.

Only eight sites were selected in the United States:  

  • The Great Unconformity at the Grand Canyon (Arizona)
  • Late Quaternary Asphalt Seeps and Paleontological Site of La Brea Tar Pits (California)
  • Archean Rocks of the Eatern Beartooth Mountains (Montana)
  • The Stillwater Complex, (Montana)
  • The Yellowstone Volcanic and Hydrothermal System (Wyoming)
  • Northern Snake Range Metamorphic Core Complex (Nevada)
  • The Grand Canyon (Arizona)
  • Dry Falls and the Channeled Scabland (Washington state)

“This designation from the international scientific community significantly reinforces the unique importance of the La Brea Tar Pits site for scientific research into the past for understanding climate change in our own time,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, President and Director of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, which oversees La Brea Tar Pits as an active field site and museum. “This designation is especially timely considering our upcoming museum reimagining and renovation, which will help our organization better share the sites’ critical research with the public,” she said.

Bettison-Varga is attending the 60th Anniversary conference in Zumaia, Basque Coast, Spain, and will present information on October 27 about La Brea’s intensive research on geology, paleontology, and archaeology, as well as its gifts to science and the hard work of its paleontologists, preparators, and volunteers, during its more than 100 years of intensive research.

A reimagining of the Tar Pits’ 13-acre campus has been in the works since 2019, when the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), through a public competition, selected the world-renowned architecture firm Weiss/Manfredi to create a master plan to improve research facilities and collections space, expand exhibits, and unify the various elements of the site—the Lake Pit, the tar pits, the lawn, and the museum at La Brea Tar Pits (established in 1977 as the George C. Page Museum). The master plan developed with Weiss/Manfredi is a multi-year process of public engagement, master planning, design, and future construction at the Tar Pits’ campus, which encompasses its asphalt seeps, surrounding parkland, and the George C. Page Museum building.

“The plan to reimagine La Brea Tar Pits aims to demystify the science and seize this opportunity to educate visitors about the impacts of climate change, in the past and now,” added Dr. Bettison-Varga. At the heart of the plan is NHMLAC’s promise that La Brea Tar Pits will remain inclusive and accessible to all—whether it’s a child marveling at just-unearthed fossils at the Tar Pits or a neighbor jogging past the still oozing asphalt.”

La Brea Tar Pits was formed through multiple intervals of uplift and faulting, allowing crude petroleum to seep to the surface from underground reserves over the last 50,000 years, creating shallow pools that entrapped and preserved millions of fossils representing hundreds of species of plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates. It has been the subject of intensive research on geology, paleontology, and archaeology for over 150 years. In 1951, it was designated as the type locality for the Rancholabrean North American Land Mammal Age (NALMA), meaning it is the site of reference for fossils found between 240,000 and 11,000 years ago in North America. The site was also formally recognized by the United States National Parks Service as a National Natural Landmark in 1963.

Today, research at La Brea Tar Pits ranges from traditional descriptions of fossils, to studying the biology and behavior of extinct animals, to investigating how ecosystems have been altered under changing climatic conditions over the past 50,000 years. This last research focus has particular urgency, as it can  provide critical baselines for understanding how plants and animals will be impacted by modern, human-caused climate change.

About La Brea Tar Pits
The asphalt seeps at La Brea Tar Pits are the only consistently active and urban Ice Age excavation site in the world. This makes the site a unique window into active science—where fossils are discovered, prepared, researched, and displayed in one place. Outside, visitors can watch excavators unearth fossils of Ice Age plants and animals that were trapped and preserved in the seeps. Inside the Museum, scientists and volunteers clean, repair, and identify those very fossils. The best specimens are displayed and available for research: from extraordinary saber-toothed cats, giant sloths, dire wolves, mammoths, and mastodons—to microfossils of small animals and plants. These collections constitute an unparalleled resource for understanding environmental change in Los Angeles, and the planet, during the last 50,000 years of Earth’s history.

About the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County
The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) include the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, La Brea Tar Pits in Hancock Park, and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall. They operate under the collective vision to inspire wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds. The museums hold one of the world’s most extensive and valuable collections of natural and cultural history—more than 35 million objects. Using these collections for groundbreaking scientific and historical research, the museums also incorporate them into on- and offsite nature and culture exploration in L.A. neighborhoods, and a slate of community science programs—creating indoor-outdoor visitor experiences that explore the past, present, and future. Visit NHMLAC.ORG for adventure, education, and entertainment opportunities.

Media Contacts
Sally Marquez, NHMLAC
smarquez@nhm.org (213) 763-3580

Maura Klosterman-Vu, Polskin Arts
(310) 552-4117