LASA goes Under L.A.

In November, LASA considered the subterranean stories under Los Angeles. Seeking answers to questions about the details of these stories and the significance of “under Los Angeles” to their present lives, students met on the USC campus and jumped on the bus to the La Brea Tar Pits.

Greeted by Stephany Potze and Laura Tewksbury, LASA walked to the amphitheater near Project 23. Stephany is the Fossil Lab Manager and Laura is a Preparator (or Excavator). LASA student Renée shares, “It was incredibly fascinating to learn from these women about the process in which they dig up and then clean fossils. I was surprised to find out that the team at the tar pits has been working on the same fossil project (Project 23) for over ten years; it is evident that these archaeologists have a deep passion for and are extremely dedicated to their field of work.” While the larger fossils are dramatic finds, LASA learned that microfossils of plants hold vital clues to understanding climate change in this space over thousands of year.

Ashley Leger, Paleontological Field Director with Cogstone Resource Management, Inc., joined LASA at the tar pits and we walked along Wilshire Boulevard above the future Metro Purple Line. Her job is to spot potential fossil deposits as the construction on the Purple Line progresses. Her enthusiasm for her work was contagious as she shared her path to her career that started as a child with a love for paleontology. She explained the legal requirements that provide for her presence at such a massive site and her day-to-day work. The details about the specific workplace safety rules for those working underground (no batteries – so no phones or watches) and their specially-made explosion-proof tools intrigued us. Upon completion of the Purple Line, LASA graduates will consider Ashley’s work as they buzz past on their way downtown or to UCLA.

Then, LASA returned to USC to join ICW’s conference Under LA: Subterranean Stories. Though LASA missed the morning panels, we made it to the Cold War panel, “The Militarized Underground,” featuring Nathan Masters, ICW’s Director of the Aerospace History Project Peter Westwick, Sherman Mullin, and M.G. Lord. The images and details of bunkers and bomb shelters – and the power of fear – fascinated us. After picking up cookies for the way home, we left campus for the day and LASA for 2017 with a particular new attention to the spaces underneath us.