“Flintstones, meet the Flintstones; they’re a modern, Stone Age family…” If you grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Hanna-Barbara’s animated homage to “The Honeymooners” was part of your pop cultural landscape. The mis-adventures of Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, their long suffering wives, Wilma and Betty and their children, Pebbles and Bam Bam were wildly popular. Set in a “stone age” version of suburbia, the show was a sarcastic, yet loving, commentary on life in mid-twentieth century America. Fred was the typical American blue collar working man. He was a heavy equipment operator at the local stone quarry, Wilma, his wife, came from a wealthy family and Fred had married up, or Wilma hand married down, depending on the episode. Fred loved his family, mammoth ribs, his brothers in the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo, and bowling. He was forever scheming to get ahead and was always harassed by his boss, Mr. Slate. His best friend, Barney was a bit naïve and skeptical of Fred’s schemes. Often, it was Betty and Wilma who cleaned up the messes created by Fred and Barney.
The show was unique in that many of the stars of the day were guests on the show. Ann Margret, Tony Curtis, Hoagy Carmichael, The Beatles, and Gina Lollobrigida all appeared in the show as “stone age” celebrities. It was also the first animated series to air in prime time. The show spawned several spin offs, two movies, theme parks, chewable vitamins and a breakfast cereal.
The show, of course, is set in a highly fictional version of the “stone age”. Very few people truly believe that dinosaurs and man coexisted; that brontosaurs were used as heavy equipment, and that any human kept a sabre toothed cat or a dinosaur as a pet. But there is one place where you can visit the real world of the Flintstones, and that place is in downtown Los Angeles. In Hancock Park, on Wiltshire Boulevard, next to the LA County Museum of Art is a place where the world of the Flintstones still exists. I am referring, of course, to the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum. So, excuse me as I go extremely “retro’ in my ramblings and write about one of the richest paleontological sites in North America, if not the world.
Los Angeles and indeed, most of Southern California “floats” on a great lake of petroleum known as the Salt Lake Oil Field. For tens of thousands of years, asphalt has seeped up to the surface of the Earth in the vicinity of what is now Hancock Park. The naturally occurring seeps eventually are covered with leaves, dirt, water and other debris and become traps for animals and humans. The native people of the area used the natural “tar” to waterproof their boats and dwellings and sometimes the large bones found in the asphalt were displayed as natural curiosities.
Over a period of ten thousand years, during the Pleistocene Epoch, also known as the Ice Age, hundreds of thousands of insects, birds and animals became entombed in the seeps, leaving a massive fossil record. Modern excavation of the area began in 1915 and since then over twelve million fossils have been recovered. Hundreds of fossil birds, animals, including ground sloths, sabre toothed cats, dire wolves, Columbian Mammoths, Bison and at least one human have been recovered.
The La Brea Tar Pits are still being excavated. Currently one of the seeps in Hancock Park, known as Pit 91 is an active dig site and open to public viewing. There is also Project 23, an ongoing recovery project. Project 23 began when the LA County Museum of Art built an underground parking structure. Twenty three crates of fossils were preserved, in matrix, and given to the La Brea Tar Pits Museum. Paleontologists are currently working their way through the crates, and while the fossils are no longer in situ, the crated remains will provide ongoing work for years to come. It is estimated that an additional two million fossils are contained in the twenty three crates.
In the museum, there are a couple of auditoriums, one which is used for showing a 3D documentary film on the natural history of the tar pits and another which is used for an animatronic “encounter” with a sabre tooth cat and an overview of the timeline of the tar pits. There is also a fossils lab where volunteers, students and paleontologists work to identify fossil specimens. There are displays of many of the fossils found at the site as well as life like reconstructions of the animals and birds left in the tar. Out in the park, there are statues of some of the large animals which have been recovered and a “Pleistocene” Garden which highlights plants which still grow in the area. There is a museum store and an atrium to stroll through. So, while Dino may not greet you at the door, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum is a both fascinating and interesting place to visit.
Getting There: The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum are located at 5801 Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. From 414 Mason Street, take Interstate 80 East to Interstate 580 East. Take Interstate 580 East to Interstate 5 South. Stay on Interstate 5 South until you can merge onto CA-170 towards Hollywood. From CA-170, merge onto US-101 South. Take exit 9B and turn right onto N. Cahuenga Boulevard. Turn right onto Melrose Drive. Turn left onto N. Highland Drive and finally turn right onto West 6th Street. The entrance to the museum and Tar Pits is located on the corner of Wiltshire Boulevard and West 6th Street.