The La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles is a treasure trove of information about prehistoric California. Thousands of animals over time were trapped and then preserved in the pits, seemingly for us to study, but so far only one human has been found. Scientists are able to date these remains of extinct species by carbon dating. And they can date the tar itself by its layers of pollen and charcoal trapped as the tar solidified.
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The lack of human remains doesn’t mean people weren’t there- they just learned to avoid the tar. Evidence of humans shows that they were indeed in southern California, with a steep rise in population around 13,200 years ago. That’s when the charcoal layers became more frequent in the timeline, suggesting that human campfires got out of control, or else they purposefully set wildfires to chase animals out for the hunt. Then about 12,900 years ago, many large mammal species suddenly vanished from the fossil record. Could they have been driven out, or driven extinct, by human-caused wildfires? The area was suffering from drought already, which would have both weakened the animals and made the forests more susceptible to fire. Just as Southern California suffers from drought affecting a huge population of humans today. -via Strange Company
(Image credit: Cullen Townsend, Natural History Museum)