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The LaBrea Tar Pits

Updated: May 19

How has the world been shaped by the events described in the Bible?

Application: The Earth has been subjected to multiple catastrophes described in the Bible that have shaped the world around us.

In this Lesson, Dr. Bob visits the LaBrea tarpits and describes the catastrophic events that have created it. From the global flood, the fountains of the deep, the destruction of forests, and the changing world after the flood, the events have left evidence in the geology of this area..

Supplemental Information

La Brea means "tar" in Spanish, so when we speak of the LaBrea Tar Pits, we're being a little repetitive. We're actually saying the Tar Tar Pits! The tar we see at LaBrea is more accurately called "asphalt" or "bitumen." It is a semi-solid form of petroleum.

The Tar Pits tell an amazing story of events dating back before the flood. While some scientists insist that animals fell into tar pits over thousands of years, the evidence paints a very different picture, especially when viewed through a Biblical Worldview. Multiple catastrophes are represented here. We'll begin with the tar.

History of the Pits

There are fossils from nearly 250 different kinds of animals found in the pits. They are completely encased in the tar, called bitumen. These include terrifying saber-toothed cats, huge mastodons, amazing wolves, as well as camels, birds, insects, and even some human bones.

Geologist William Blake first described the area in 1853. The first person that these were not modern animals, but extinct creatures, was geologist William Denton. He discovered these unique fossils while prospecting for oil. Eventually scientists from Berkeley learned of the fossils, and excavated many of the specimens displayed at the site.

Formation of Tar

Tar, or bitumen, is a petroleum product. Its chemistry can tell us a lot about its origin. Petroleum is a complex mixture of organic compounds. One chemical found in crude oil is called porphyrin. It is also found in plants and animal blood. This says a lot about the organic origins of oil.

Porphyrin molecules break apart rapidly in the presence of oxygen and heat. Since porphyrins are still present in crude oils today they must not have been exposed to oxygen or heat in the past. They must have been buried quickly, and have remained so until today.

Some interesting background on porphyrins: The amounts of porphyrins found in crude oils vary from traces to 0.04%. Experiments have produced a concentration of 0.5% porphyrin from plant material in just one day. It doesn’t take millions of years to produce the small amounts of porphyrins found in crude oils. Crude oil porphyrins can be made from plant chlorophyll in less than 12 hours. However, other experiments have shown that plant porphyrin breaks down in as little as three days when exposed to temperatures of only 410°F for only 12 hours.

Because organic material must be buried rapidly, and not be exposed to high heat for any length of time, we know that the trees, bark and other material that ultimately became oil and tar must have been the result of the global flood, and have been buried early in the global flood.

The Source of the Bones

Because the bones discovered at LaBrea are mixed, entangled, and often show signs of physical trauma, it is clear that they were deposited in a destructive, catastrophic event. These events were plentiful after the flood and the subsequent ice age. As the great sheets of ice melted, massive inland seas were formed that ultimately overtopped their boundaries and flooded large areas. These floods trapped large populations of animals and deposited their bones in tangled bone-beds that were then covered by additional sediments from these flood events.

How Did the Bones Get Into the Tar?

Finding these bones covered by petroleum products does not indicate that they drowned in tar, only that a subsequent event allowed the petroleum deposits buried beneath these flood sediments to intrude on their burial site. Southern California's earthquakes provided that event, fracturing the rock layers between the petroleum deposits and the bone beds and allowing the bitumen to percolate through the sediments and come to the surface, encasing the bones in bitumen.

This is further confirmed by bone deposits located nearby of the same mixture of animals, with the same catastrophic evidence, but without the bitumen. The conventional burial story of animals becoming trapped in the exposed tar and slowly sinking was initially questioned when the size of the pits and the size of the animals became known. Pit 36 had an opening of 4 feet by 2 feet and was only 11 feet deep, yet it contained six large carnivore fossils.

A Combination of Events

As is the case with most of the geological features we observe, LaBrea testifies to multiple events: the destruction of the global flood, the rapid spread of post-flood animals and their variety, the existence of a flood-induced ice age, the creation of massive inland seas as the ice age ended, post-flood deluges that destroyed ecosystems and buried their remains, and finally, the continued movement of the earths crust as a result of the fractures of the fountains of the deep during the global flood. Rather than displaying uniformitarian principles, LaBrea provides a window into Earth's catastrophic past. This site testifies of God's judgement, and reminds us of the truth of His Word. It also testifies of His love. We are here to observe this evidence because Noah was faithful, and trusted God and believed.


Scripture References

  • "Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish." Genesis 6:17

  • " 'I will completely remove all things from the face of the earth,' declares the Lord." Zephaniah 1:2

  • "and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly..." 2 Peter 2:5

  • “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you." Isaiah 43:2

  • "Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch." Genesis 6:14

  • "And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid [it] in the flags by the river's brink." Exodus 2:3

LaBrea Tar Pits Worksheet
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Some History of Bitumen

In the ancient Middle East, the Sumerians used natural bitumen deposits for mortar between bricks and stones, to cement parts of carvings, such as eyes, into place, for ship caulking, and for waterproofing. The Greek historian Herodotus said hot bitumen was used as mortar in the walls of Babylon.

The Euphrates Tunnel beneath the river Euphrates at Babylon in the time of Queen Semiramis (around 800 BC) was reportedly constructed of burnt bricks covered with bitumen as a waterproofing agent.

Bitumen was used by ancient Egyptians to embalm mummies. The Persian word for asphalt is moom, which is related to the English word mummy. The Egyptians' primary source of bitumen was the Dead Sea, which the Romans knew as Palus Asphaltites (Asphalt Lake). This is the pitch used by Miriam to seal Moses' ark.

Tar Before the Flood

Prior to the flood, there was no bitumen, since it is the result of the organic material buried by the global flood. However, wood tar was produced, just as it was after the flood in areas that did not have access to bitumen.

The heating of pine wood causes tar and pitch to drip away from the wood and leave behind charcoal. Birch bark is used to make exceptional tar, which is often called "Russian Oil.". The by-products of the creation of wood tar are turpentine and charcoal. When deciduous tree woods are subjected to destructive distillation, the products are methanol (also called wood alcohol) and charcoal.

Wood tar has been used as a water repellent coating for boats, ships, and roofs for centuries. Producing tar from wood was frequent in ancient Greece. Its main use was in preserving wooden sailing vessels against rot. God told Noah to cover the ark inside and out with pitch. This is the source of Noah's pitch.

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