Rancho La Brea Excavations Master | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Excavators at work in Pits 61 and 67 in the early twentieth century.

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RLB Excavations Gallery




The asphalt seeps of Rancho La Brea have been of interest since prehistoric times: Native Americans used the asphalt as a glue or caulk, and early Angelenos used it as a roofing material. Though the first recorded mention of the asphalt dates back to the 1760s, it wasn't until 1875 that the animal remains found in the seeps were recognized by Professor William Denton as fossils, and until 1908 when they were first featured in an academic publication written by J. C. Merriam (mentor to Chester Stock).

More information about the early excavations at Rancho La Brea can be found at www.tarpits.org including Pit 91.



Excavation at Rancho La Brea has continued, off and on, since the beginning of the twentieth century. Although much of the surrounding landscape has changed immensely, many of our fundamental excavation techniques have remained the same: bones are excavated using small hand tools and field data is recorded with pen and paper. Even our measurement system has its roots in the grid system laid out by excavators in 1913. We supplement and support these techniques with new technology — electric lamps warm and soften the particularly dense asphalt of Project 23, digital cameras document day-to-day progress quickly and cheaply, and computerized databases allow us to search through collections with a modicum of ease — but we doubt if anything will ever replace hand tools, pen, paper, and elbow grease.

 More information about our current excavations and a video on how we excavate can be found at www.tarpits.org