Tooth, tusks and skull from ancient relatives of elephants unearthed during Purple Line construction


Unearthing the skull and tusks. Photo: Metro.


One of the tusks that was found.


Another view of the tusk. Photo: Metro.


Getting to the fossils through the dirt. Photo: Metro.


Unearthing the remains. Photo: Metro.


Putting the finds in plaster so they can be safely removed from the construction site. Photo: Metro.

Parts of two ancient elephant relatives were found in the past week during excavation work on the future Wilshire/La Brea Station for the Purple Line Extension subway, Metro announced today. These are the first fossils from a mammal species found during work on this section of the subway project.

A three-foot section of tusk and mastodon tooth fragments from an adult were found just before Thanksgiving as part station excavation. Subsequently, a partial skull with tusks of a possibly much younger

An illustration of an American Mastodon. Credit: La Brea Tar Pits & Museum.

An illustration of an American Mastodon. Credit: La Brea Tar Pits & Museum.

mammoth or mastodon was discovered on Monday in the same location on the southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, about 15 feet below street level.

Mammoths and mastodons are both distantly related to elephants. Columbian mammoths found in California were slightly larger than the American mastodon.  Mammoths were more of a plains animal with tall “washboard-like” flat teeth that could stand up to chewing tough grasses with silica, while mastodons tended to roam brush and forests while eating mostly leaves, fruit, and flowers — so their teeth had low crowns. Both species went extinct in North America at least 10,000 years ago during a wave of large animal extinctions following the last Ice Age.

The remains of these type of large animals have been found at the nearby La Brea Tar Pits. Because fossils were expected to be unearthed during subway work, Metro has hired paleontologists from a firm named Cogstone to monitor excavation work and help identify and preserve fossils found during construction. When such finds are made, construction work is immediately stopped in the area until the fossils can be preserved and removed.

Both the tusk section and skull have been encased in plaster — similar to that used in making casts for humans — in order to be removed from the site intact and taken to a lab for further analysis. An analysis of the teeth and other features of the skull will tell whether the animal was a mammoth or mastodon. The skull will ultimately be handed over to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.


30 replies

  1. […] Прибывшие на место палеонтологи извлекли метровый кусок бивня, а также череп и части бивней более молодого животного. Возможно, это останки мамонта или мастодонта, отмечает местный сайт The Source. […]

  2. You mean the tar pits extend beyond the fenced area, who would have guessed. The BIG PICTURED BOOK about the time of the pre-historic animals must have misled the TEXT BOOK professionals at the MTA.

  3. Very Cool! I hope these can be incorporated into a display within the Wilshire/La Brea station, rather than just sitting in a drawer in the museum. It would be a great display on the natural history of the area, and of the station construction, not to mention a good advertisement for the nearby Page Museum (only one stop further West!). Something akin to the archaeological displays Athens put in their metro when artifacts were discovered during station excavation.

  4. […] A three-foot section of tusk and tooth fragments from an adult American mastodon and a partial skull of a younger mammoth or mastodon were dug up Monday at the southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, about 15 feet below street level, reports Los Angeles transportation blog The Source. […]