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La Brea Woman

La Brea Woman imagined at La Brea Tar Pits & Museum

Prehistoric La Brea Woman imagined in display at La Brea Tar Pits & Museum. Los Angeles Almanac Photo.

The only prehistoric human remains uncovered in the Rancho La Brea area were those of the La Brea Woman, found in 1914. Excavators uncovered a woman's skull and partial skeleton. She was determined, by more recent radiocarbon-dating, to have died about 10,220-10,250 years ago, making her one of the earliest identified human residents of Los Angeles County. She was believed to have been about 18-24 years old (others speculation at 25-30 years old) and stood about 4 feet, 8-10 inches (1.5 meters) tall. Wear on her surviving teeth indicated a diet of stone-ground meal. Her skull structure indicated that she may have been of the Chumash people, though, this is debated. Also inclusive is whether she was originally from area of the tar pits. Her skull was also found fractured, suggesting a blow to the head that may have killed her. She might just be L.A.'s first known homicide victim. A broken grinding stone was found nearby (a common burial item among Southern California aboriginal people).

The remains of a domestic dog were also found near to where La Brea Woman was found. The animal was long believed to have been buried with her, speculated as perhaps part of a ceremonial process surrounding La Brea Woman's death. However, the dog's remains were more recently determined to be only about 3,200-3,400 years old and, therefore, not associated with La Brea woman. See Tar Trap: No Evidence of Domestic Dog Burial with “La Brea Woman”.

Source: The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits (and thanks, Claire, for your notes!)

La Brea Woman Skull Reproduction at Santa Barbara Historical Museum

Reproduction of the skull of La Brea Woman, once displayed at La Brea Tar Pits & Museum.
Photo by Franko Fonseca, via Wikimedia Commons, used with permission under Creative Commons.

La Brea Woman, Melissa R. Cooper

In 2009, forensic artist Melissa R. Cooper created a facial reproduction of what La Brea Woman's face may have looked like, based upon her skull structure.