Photo: Fossil exhibit in Venezuela
Three million years after being trapped in a tar pit, the fossils of 34 species of animals have been recovered and analyzed - including saber-toothed tigers and a new species of caiman - and will be able to be enjoyed by the public at an exhibit in Caracas.
The tar pit was more than 18,000 square meters (more than 190,000 square feet) in size and located in El Breal de Orocual, an area in the eastern Venezuelan state of Monagas, and it became a trap during the Pleistocene era where a large number of animals met their ends. Recently, their remains have been providing new information about the presence of certain species far from where they had been thought to reside.
Scientists infer from the remains, for instance, that an early mammal - perhaps a type of horse - was attacked by a tiger at the site but both beasts became stuck in the viscous tar bed, which at the time was covered by a very shallow lake.
Over the years, more and more animals became trapped in the deadly tar, including carrion-eating birds and insects, and thus since 2006 - when the first fossil find was made there - scientists have been able to analyze an entire ecosystem and six years later the tar pit was still providing revelations such as the discovery in late 2012 of a new species of alligator-like reptile dubbed the Caiman venezuelensis.
The fossils were found when state-owned oil giant Petroleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, was building a pipeline, but the pipeline work was suddenly halted when workers found bones at the site.
Most of the skeletons of ancient animals recovered from the tar pit are now being exhibited for the public at the La Estancia Art Center belonging to PDVSA in the Venezuelan capital.