Empire: a canal locality we had never been to before. Ongoing construction related to the canal expansion has recreated whatever was there before and exposed fresh outcrop, so in a way it was a new locality even for Jorge. We had brought with us two STRI scientist guests, Juan and Florence, who wanted to see our sites, and upon arrival everyone set about scrambling over the rocks, trying to interpret what we saw.

There was a pavement of strange concretion-looking things, a bed of mollusks, a leaf imprint in fine dark shale… it was like a paleontologist’s playground. We ran into two other geologists there, a Brazilian and a Panamanian, bringing our count of represented countries to six (Juan is from San Salvador and Florence from France). As we moved closer to the canal the section became even more scrambled, with faults every few meters producing stratigraphic chaos.

Wandering around the mess I noticed a block of light orange sandstone, hard and coarse and truncated at either end so it was only about 2-3 m long. Below it were what looked like logs that had turned to lignite (low-grade coal). Picking them up, however, I found them to be much heavier and less crumbly than lignite we’ve seen elsewhere around here, probably due to permineralization, in which minerals fill in the cavities in an organic form (think petrified wood).

We followed these stone trunks, branches and stems along the layer and discovered two whole, round, unsquashed seeds approximately 2 cm in diameter encased in the sandstone. Our paleobotanist friends tell us that seeds are particularly useful in identifying fossil plants, so we knew they would be happy to see these. An exciting find!

To finish off our morning in the field we drove up to the top of Cerro Zion and looked down at the ships passing under Centenario Bridge. It’s one of those views that make you feel small, especially when you start to think of the lives that were  poured into building the canal, the slowness with which the isthmus formed, or the incalculable number of fossils still out there waiting for us.


Adam, Florence, Jorge and Juan atop Cerro Zion, overlooking the canal and Centenario Bridge
Adam, Florence, Jorge and Juan atop Cerro Zion, overlooking the canal and Centenario Bridge

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