And finally… Mammoth fossils found during LA subway dig

Fossils from giant ice age-beasts were uncovered while workers were digging an extension to the Los Angeles subway system.

The finds include a 3-foot-long (1 meter) section of mammoth tusk, as well as a skull and partial tusks from a much younger animal, which might have been either a mammoth or a mastodon, according to The Source, a transportation blog about the L.A. Metro.

The discovery of the ice-age fossils (whose exact age has not yet been determined) is not too surprising given that the area around the site is not too far from the La Brea Tar Pits, an area of central Los Angeles where natural asphalt has been seeping up from the ground for the last 40,000 years.

Over the years, this constant ooze of asphalt has created sticky pits in valleys that would often become obscured by leaves, branches and other ground cover. As a result, unwary animals stepped into the sticky death traps. Researchers have noted that the viscous ooze trapped small animals and insects immediately, while larger beasts like mammoths sank inches into the tar, struggling to get out before becoming stuck.

The dead or dying animals attracted predators as well — some of which also became stuck in the asphalt. All told, more than 1 million fossils have been found in the tar pits, according to the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum.

Mammoths and mastodons are both Proboscideans. Mammoths are much more closely related to modern-day elephants, having arisen about 5 million years ago in Africa. By contrast, mastodons arose about 27 million to 30 million years ago.

The new finds were immediately covered with plaster for preservation and sent to the nearby Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.