CTX Friesenhahn Cave-La Brea Tar Pit Connection
Amid a packed room of students taking notes with faculty, staff and visiting scientists listening intently, Dr. Emily Lindsey, co-curator of the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Los Angeles, California, told a story tens of thousands of years in the making. Her presentation titled “The History of Rancho La Brea” took the audience back to the late-Quaternary megafauna extinctions, a phenomenon that killed most of the world’s large-bodied animals. Excavations of the La Brea Tar Pits have helped precisely carbon date the last 50,000 years of earth’s history, pulling up roughly five million fossils in the century since its first excavation. But why are these excavations important, and what does this have to do with Concordia’s own Friesenhahn Cave?
For the science community, replication is key to good research, and the amount of replication found in the La Brea Tar Pits is staggering. Take, for example, the wall of 400 dire wolf skulls put on display out of the roughly 4,000 excavated. One skeleton can be an outlier in research, but 4,000 skeletons are hard to dismiss. All of these fossilized remains allow paleontologists to get a more accurate understanding of how climate change and human arrival affected the environment and animal populations. Outside of the La Brea Tar Pits, one of the only other sites in the United States to produce such a variety and abundance of Pleistocene vertebrates is Concordia’s Friesenhahn Cave, near San Antonio, Texas. What dire wolves are to the La Brea tar pits, scimitar-toothed cats are to Friesenhahn.
The most important connection between the two sites, as Dr. Lindsey puts it, is “the potential to paint a picture of the Southwest” in regard to climate change and human interference impacting animal populations in the past. Drawing on each other’s research, La Brea and Frieshenhahn scientists are able to more accurately predict the ways our present day fauna will react to the rapid changes in climate and continued human interference.
Concordia’s Biology faculty member, Dr. Jen Hofmann, has been working with the La Brea staff over the last 2 years, training to properly manage the cave, handle the fossils and communicate information coming from excavations of Friesenhahn Cave. Dr. Hofmann took over coordination of the cave from emeritus faculty member, Dr. Larry Meissner, who was instrumental in bringing this valuable property under Concordia’s stewardship. Dr. Hofmann hopes the creation of the Friesenhahn Cave and Preserve Council last year cultivates research for many years to come, all the while receiving the proper care and attention the cave deserves.