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The Scholastic Kids Press Corps is a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation.  The interactive site brings daily news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.
a mammoth skull discovered in a tar pit Finding complete tusks on an ancient mammoth skeleton is rare. These, found at a construction site by the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California, are extraordinary! (Photo courtesy Miranda Rector)

A Mammoth Find

Nearly complete ancient animal found in L.A.

By Miranda Rector | null null , null

You know you have to stop construction when the top of a mammoth head gets chopped off. This is how Project 23 began in Rancho La Brea Park in Los Angeles, California.

The Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits live next to the Los Angeles Community Museum of Art (LACMA) in downtown Los Angeles. About two years ago, during the building of an underground parking garage for the museum, workers uncovered massive amounts of fossils preserved in liquid asphalt. Construction stopped immediately and an archeological excavation began.

Hired excavators and volunteers are now working to dig out these fossils so the Page Museum and the Natural History Museum can study them.

"Every single bone you uncover, you're the very first person ever to see that bone," said Laura Tewksvury, an excavator with the Page Museum. "It's like treasure hunting for your job."

The name for Project 23 comes from the 23 tree crates being used to store the 3 to 4 million fossils uncovered so far.

Fossils reveal the habitat of the creature or plant unearthed. By studying the characteristics of the fossil, scientists can learn what the habitat must have been like thousands, even millions, of years ago. By comparing the differences between then and now, scientists can figure see how the species and habitats have evolved.

"Finding out all sorts of information about the past can teach us about the future," Tewksvury told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps during a recent tour of Project 23 and the Page Museum.

While the biggest scientific find may be the millions of smaller fossils being catalogued, the most spectacular find is the beheaded mammoth. Named Zed by the scientists studying him, the mammoth skeleton is 80 per cent complete! The bones from the male Columbian mammoth skeleton are so special he is kept separate from the 23 tree crates.

Zed is larger than most Columbian mammoth skeletons, including the one currently at the Page Museum. He will one day replace those bones. For now, however, his skeleton is being stored in the museum's Fish Bowl Lab. His skull is kept near the back exit of the museum, next to wheel chairs and lockers. It is protected by a cast-like "jacket."

Another fascinating Zed feature is his tusks. Since tusks easily perish, they are a very rare find. Excavators usually only unearth small fractions of the tusks when they find a skeleton. Zed's tusks are almost complete!

A flood that washed Zed into a riverbed has kept the bones and tusks in near-perfect condition. Also, few other animals died on top of him, which can break and scatter bones. Scientists can tell a lot about this animal just by studying the bones.

"This is a very exciting time for us," said July Takeda, a gallery interpreter for the Page Museum. "It's a time of new discoveries, and a great time for research and scientific studies."

For more information about the Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits, check out the museum website.

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