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LA BREA TAR PITS YIELD BONES OF EARLY, LARGER CONDORS.

Byline: ELISE KLEEMAN

Staff Writer

PASADENA -- From the foul-smelling, belching black maw of the La Brea Tar Pits, scientists have exhumed the bones of ancient beasts, and from those, new understanding about the evolution of the condor.

Caltech undergraduate Valerie Syverson has found that the California condor once probably coexisted with a separate condor species -- one even larger than the avian giants still alive today.

"She looked at just about all the common elements of the wings and the legs and the skull," said Don Prothero, and Occidental College paleontologist and her adviser at the California Institute of Technology. "Sure enough, when you measure enough specimens and you plot them, boy, they sure stand out like night and day."

The ancient beasts, the team found, had a longer, narrower skull and were about 10 percent to 20 percent larger than today's condors, which have 9-foot wingspans.

The giant condors once lived alongside the sabertooth cats, ice age lions, elephant-sized ground sloths and massive dire wolves that ruled the area tens of thousands of years ago.

Paleontologists have unearthed millions of fossils of these and more than 600 other species of animals and plants from their tar pits, now part of the George C. Page Museum along Los Angeles' Miracle Mile.

"The tar pits are one of the richest ice age fossil sites in the world," said John Harris, the museum's chief curator. "They're important not only because of the diversity, but because the fossils are very well preserved."

In a particular, they are a gold mine for the bones of ancient scavengers like the condors.

"One trapped horse may result in a couple of saber-toothed cats and some dire wolves," Harris said.

The Page Museum's collection contains thousands of long leg bones of birds of prey whose feet were caught by the dark morass.

Because the tar pits ensnared creatures between 9,000 and 40,000 years ago -- a period encompassing an entire ice age -- the cache proved an ideal location for Prothero and his students to study how climate change affected animal species.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 29, 2007
Words:344
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