Interest in the fossil vertebrates of Panama started when Robert H. Stewart, a geologist with the Panama Canal Company, alongside his assistant, started finding and collecting fossil vertebrate remains in the early 1960's. The fossils were being collected from sediments of the Cucaracha Formation exposed along the Gaillard Cut, one of the artificial valleys that was crucial to the making of the canal. Frank C. Whitmore Jr. (who sadly passes away a little more than a year ago) was then a paleontologist with the US Geological Survey (and expert on fossil mammals) and eventually got involved with the collecting and studying of the Panamanian fossil. He and Stewart published the results of their study in 1965 (Whitmore & Stewart, 1965). Prior to these discoveries, very little was known of the fossil vertebrate fauna of the Central American region, and these were actually the first Miocene fossils found between Honduras and Colombia (Whitmore & Stewart, 1965). Up to that point it was not known wether Central America had been separated from North or South America (some even said both) during the Cenozoic, and if so, for how long? So the discovery of Miocene terrestrial mammals in Panama was a big deal!
|The Gaillard Cut and Centenario Bridge in the early morning.|
*a term used for the biogeographic region comprising the northern continents.
**we now know that they remained separated by a marine passageway known as the Central American Seaway until about 3 million years ago (Duque-Caro, 1990; Coates et al., 1992).
|Another closer look at the Gaillard Cut. Here you can see sediments of the Cucaracha Formation with Centenario Bridge in the Background.|
*Access to this and all other paleontological localities along the canal brought to you thanks to the courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).
Coates, A. G., J. B. C. Jackson, L. S. Collins, T. M. Cronin, H. J. Dowsett, L. M. Bybell, P. Jung, and J. A. Obando. 1992. Closure of the Isthmus of Panama: the near-shore marine record of Costa Rica and western Panama. GSA Bulletin 104:814-828.
Duque-Caro, H. 1990. Neogene stratigraphy, paleoceanography and paleobiogeography in northwestern South America and the evolution of the Panama Seaway. Plaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 77:203-234.
Ferrusquía-Villafranca, I. 1978. Distribution of Cenozoic vertebrate faunas in middle America and the problems of migrations between North and South America. Instituto de Geología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México 101:193-329.
MacFadden, B. J. 2006. North American Miocene land mammals from Panama. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 26:720-734.
Rich, P. V., and T. H. Rich. 1983. The Central American dispersal route: biotic history and paleogeography; pp. 12-34 in D. H. Janzen (ed.), Costa Rican Natural History. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.
Whitmore, Jr., F. C., and R. H. Stewart. 1965. Miocene mammals and Central American Seaways. Science 148:180-185.
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