From dinosaurs to downtown LA: ‘Eons: Mysteries of Deep Time’ unearths natural history with Blake de Pastino

Science March 17, 2022
Eons: Mysteries of Deep Time podcast art
Listen to ‘Eons: Mysteries of Deep Time’

PBS’ new podcast, “Eons: Mysteries of Deep Time,” unearths the past and investigates natural history’s greatest mysteries. Based on the YouTube series “PBS Eons,” this podcast similarly tackles the history of life on Earth, from knowns to unknowns and dinosaurs to modern cities.

Would we recognize the first dinosaur if it was found? Who was responsible for the forged Piltdown Man fossils, and why did this person engage in fraudulent activity? How did bones of an ancient woman wind up in a tar pit in LA?

These are the sorts of topics covered since March 2022 in “Eons: Mysteries of Deep Time’s” weekly episodes, hosted by Blake de Pastino. So far, episodes run under 20 minutes on average.

The podcast’s first episode dug into La Brea Tar Pits’ history, an active paleontological site in downtown Los Angeles. Now an urban environment that 12.5 million people call home, 30,000 years ago, it welcomed the Ice Age. Beasts like mammoths, sabertooth cats, bison, giant ground sloths, and dire wolves roamed in the wilderness around what is now downtown LA. Flora included sagebrush, juniper, Monterey pines, cypress, sycamore trees, and arroyo willow, plants still common in California today.

A thick, black tar substance oozed from the earth’s cracks like natural asphalt and collected in pools. This substance has been bubbling since 50,000 years ago and continues to do so today. Animals got trapped in the tar over thousands of years and were unable to escape. Fauna from the Ice Age have been uncovered in the tar pits, but only one set of human remains were found.

In 1914, a woman’s skull and partial skeleton were uncovered in the Rancho La Brea area. This woman would have been one of the first residents of Los Angeles who died over 9,000 years ago. At the time of her death, she was around 18-24 years old and stood approximately 4’10” tall. Blake delves into why this woman’s life and finding human remains in the Pits is still a mystery.

Her fractured skull suggested she could have been the first known homicide victim of the LA region. But since the Pits are active depositional environments, materials in the tar are tossed about over time, so the skull damage could have resulted from natural movement. A dog and what appeared to be ceremonial artifacts were found near the woman. Later tests determined the dog was 3,000 years old, much younger than the woman. Scientists and paleontologists are still excavating La Brea Tar Pits, studying their finds, and preserving the fossils.

For episodes diving deep into natural history, tune in weekly for new episodes of “Eons: Mysteries of Deep Time.”

Listen to ‘Eons: Mysteries of Deep Time’

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