Photo: LAMTA

Last week, a construction project for the Los Angeles subway turned into a scientific excavation after workers uncovered fossilized skull, tooth and tusk fragments from ancient elephant relatives that have been extinct for 10,000 years.

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According to L.A. transit officials, remains belonging to an adult mastodon were discovered shortly before Thanksgiving, promoting officials to bring in a paleontological monitor to survey the site near the La Brea Tar Pits. On Monday, the monitor found a second set of fossils, a partial skull with tusks possibly belonging to a young mammoth or mastodon.

Photo: LAMTA

Since such finds are not unusual in the area, officials hired an outside paleontology firm to identify and preserve any fossils found during construction before the project began.

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“Both the tusk section and skull have been encased in plaster—similar to that used in making casts for humans—in order to be removed from the site intact and taken to a lab for further analysis,” wrote the L.A. transit authority on their blog. “An analysis of the teeth and other features of the skull will tell whether the animal was a mammoth or mastodon. The skull will ultimately be handed over to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.”

Photo: LAMTA

While impressive, however, the specimens are not the only scientific discovery made during a construction project near the tar pits. In 2007, a mammoth’s nearly intact skeleton was found by workers while building a parking garage. Nicknamed “Zed,” the deposit is the most complete mammoth skeleton ever found in the area.

“The Zed deposit was actually found by a bulldozer, by a piece of heavy equipment that took off the top six inches of his skull,” a La Brea Tar Pits museum representative said in 2011. “But at least they stopped before they went any further. It was better to hit a somewhat simpler area of the head than say take out the teeth or the tusks.”

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