Prehistoric mammoths

Tue 17 Mar 2015

Prehistoric mammoths have been preserved in the famous tar pits of Rancho La Brea (Brea is the Spanish word for tar) in what now the heart of Los Angeles, California. These tar pits have been known for centuries and were formerly mined for their natural asphalt, a black or brown petroleum-like substance. Thousands of tons were extracted before 1875, when it was first noticed that the tar contained fossil remains. Major excavations were undertaken that established the significance of this remarkable site. The tar pits were found to contain the remains of scores of species of animals from the last 30,000 years of the Ice Age.

Since then, over 100 tons of fossils, 1.5 million from vertebrates, 2.5 million from invertebrates, have been recovered, often in densely concentrated tangled masses. The creatures found range form insects and birds to giant ground sloth’s, but a total of 17 proboscides (animal with a proboscis or long nose)- including mastodons and Columbian mammoths- have been recovered, most of them from Pit 9, the deepest bone-bearing deposit, which was excavated in 1914. Most of the fossils date to between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The asphalt at La Brea seeps to the surface, especially in the summer, and forms shallow puddles that would often have been concealed by leaves and dust. Unwary animals would become trapped on these thin sheets of liquid asphalt, which are extremely sticky in warm weather. Stuck, the unfortunate beasts would die of exhaustion and hunger or fall prey to predators that often also became stuck.

As the animals decayed, more scavengers would be attracted and caught in their turn. Carnivores greatly outnumber herbivores in the collection: for every large herbivore, there is one saber-tooth cat, a coyote, and four wolves. The fact that some bones are heavily weathered shows that some bodies remained above the surface for weeks or months. Bacteria in the asphalt would have consumed some of the tissues other than bones, and the asphalt itself would dissolve what was left, at the same time impregnating and beautifully preserving the saturated bones, rendering then dark brown and shiny.


1. What aspect of the La Brea tar pits does the passage mainly discuss?
(A)The amount of asphalt that was mined there
(B) The chemical and biological interactions between asphalt and animals
(C) The fossil remains that have been found there
(D) Scientific methods of determining the age of tar pits

2. In using the phrase “the heart of Los Angeles” in line 2, the author is talking about the city’s
(A) beautiful design        
(B) central area
(C) basic needs        
(D) supplies of natural asphalt

3. The word “noticed” in line 5 closest in meaning to 
(A) predicted    
(B) announced    
(C) corrected    
(D) observed

4. The word “tangled” in line 10 is closest in meaning to 
(A) buried beneath        
(B) twisted together
(C) quickly formed        
(D) easily dated

5. The word “them” in line 13 refers to
(A) insects    
(B) birds    
(C) cloths    
(D) proboscideans

6. How many probosicdeans have been found at the La Brea tar pits?
(A) 9    
(B) 17    
(C) 1.5 million    
(D) 2.5 million

7. The word “concealed” in line 17 is closest in meaning to
(A) highlighted    
(B) covered    
(C) transformed    
(D) contaminated

8. Why does the author mention animals such as coyotes and wolves in paragraph 4?
(A) To give examples of animals that are classified as carnivores
(B) To specify the animals found least commonly at La Brea
(C) To argue that these animals were especially likely to avoid extinction.
(D) To define the term “scavengers”


1)C 2)B 3)D 4)A 5)D 6)B 7)B 8)A

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