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See Fossils Up Close and Personal, La Brea Tar Pits Reopen

Jun 20, 2014 10:53 AM EDT

The public will once again be able to get up close and personal with excavated fossils because after 20 years, the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles are reopening.

Officials at the historic attraction are planning to reopen an exhibition hall and excavation site June 28, allowing onlookers to observe scientists dig for prehistoric fossils from a pool of naturally occurring asphalt.

Officially called Pit 91, the La Brea Tar Pits once were the site of discovered mastodon, saber-tooth cat and mammoth fossils, according to the Associated Press (AP), among many other prehistoric creatures.

Since 1913, five million fossils have been excavated on the 23-acre property, KABC reported.

"When people come here, they can see what the excavators see. They can see the fossils as they occur in the ground," John Harris, chief curator of the La Brea Tar Pits and George C. Page Museum, told KABC.

The observation pit first opened to the public in 1952, but in 2007 it had to be shut down so scientists could focus on another project, and consequently because of the lack of manpower to safeguard these precious fossils.

"On the open market now, the saber tooth cat skull fetches around $250,000. So we can only open this pit up when we have the resources to look after it," Harris said.

Scientists hope the tar pits, in collaboration with the Page Museum that oversees fossil collections, can bring the public closer to the field of paleontology, as well as shed light on a prehistoric Los Angeles and how local plants and animals responded to climate change.

These so-called microfossils "paint the picture best of the ancient climate that prevailed here in our city," Luis Chiappe, a curator at LA's Natural History Museum, told the AP.

In late June, the museum will resume tours of the Observation Pit, which currently holds the bones of animals like horses, sloths and camels.

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