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This Exhibit Lets You Tour LA — When It Was Underwater And Populated With Giant Sea Creatures

An illustration of a prehistoric sea creature, which has a coiled body and tentacles stretching from its face.
One of the many fossil creatures visitors will encounter in L.A. Underwater, this extinct ammonoid (Eupachydiscus) swam through Los Angeles 74 million years ago when large dinosaurs still roamed the coast of Southern California.
(Courtesy Natural History Museum of L.A. County)
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Picture Lincoln Heights. But with sharks the size of school buses, glowing deep-sea fish and giant whales swimming around.

That was the case millions of years ago. And now you can get a glimpse of L.A. as it was in prehistoric times, complete with life-size recreations of some of those ancient sea creatures, at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum's new exhibit, L.A. Underwater.

Visitors can see rare fossils from a time when even today's tallest skyscrapers would have been submerged, according to curator Austin Hendy. L.A. only became dry around 100,000 years ago, and while that may seem like a long time for humans, Hendy said, “geologically, that’s a blink of an eyelid.”

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An Atopotarus courseni fossil, a relative of modern seals.
A relative of modern seals, Atopotarus courseni, was named after the Coursen family after they found this amazing fossil in the rocks of their garden wall.
(Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of L.A. County)

Some of the fossils on display were dug up over the years in local back yards by everyday people.

"There's this scientific theme of L.A. underwater and also this local cultural theme about connecting communities around Los Angeles with collections that we have from those places, and everyday Angelenos making discoveries…everybody can be a scientist. I'm a great believer in that,” he said.

A fossil of a 13 to 15 million year old swimming crab.
This 13 to 15 million year old swimming crab was uncovered in the Altamira Shale on the Palos Verdes peninsula.
(Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of L.A. County)

While the city is covered with roads and infrastructure blanketing once-exposed geology, Hendy said there is a lot of construction activity that continually reveals new findings.

A photo of a giant walrus featured at the Natural History Museum's latest exhibition, L.A. Underwater.
The Natural History Museum's newest exhibition, L.A. Underwater, explores the region when it was submerged about 15 million years ago.
(Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of L.A. County)

"We have a lot of fossils in our collection, coming from both historic excavations of the Metro lines, but also continuing today at the purple line extension that runs past the La Brea Tar Pits, for instance, [which] is excavating a lot of interesting fossils,” he said.

And Hendy said this is just the beginning. He said he hopes this exhibit serves as the "building block" for an even larger exhibit that will explore L.A.'s relationship with the ocean.

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