Day 10: Revisiting Alajuela, Gatun, and Corazal

Today’s itinerary brought another full day of exploration, excavation, and education. In the morning we began by splitting up into three teams: Gary and Ian returned to the Corazal Lab to continue screen washing sediment, one group returned to explore some new locations at Lago Alajuela and another to the Gatun Formation to collect fossil shells.

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Most of the Gatun group, aka shell hoarders, collected fossils on the upper terrace where they not only found numerous shells, but a shark vertebrae, a shark tooth, and a partial sand dollar. A few folks worked on a particularly large fossil, but were unable to extricate it from the rock and sediment.

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Its identity is unknown, but some guesses included that it may have been a gigantic  snail or a turtle. There was definitely conch envy over Jill’s giant find! While most folks were seeking the biggest shells, I found myself drawn to the perfect miniature ones. We left the site around noon for the long ride back to CTPA.

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From the look of their tired but happy faces, it was clear that the Alajuela group found new productive fossil sites. They were excited to report their findings of a crocodile vertebrae, dugong ribs and possible teeth, megalodon teeth, ray plates, and turtle shell. Bruce expressed optimism for the new sites and plans to take a small group back to Alajuela tomorrow for additional prospecting.

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After everyone satisfied their hunger and caffeine addictions we convened at the CTPA for a paleotalk with Jorge and Paris. We learned about the long-snouted crocodilians from the Panama Canal Basin from croc enthusiast Jorge and Paris talked about her life as an intern in Panama.

We ended our final field day (for most of us) with a poolside chat and discussion of Jen’s paper “Using Fossil Teeth to Study the Evolution of Horses in Response to a Changing Climate.” I found it to be an excellent NGSS lesson plan and was excited to learn that we have a set of the horse teeth at my school!

It’s hard to believe we only have one more day in Panama. This has been a multi-faceted educational experience – a gift that I will never forget. I will take with me stories, pictures, molas and some awesome Panamanian coffee!

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