Fall 2014 Interns

Monday, Aug. 25, four new interns began their hands-on pre-Panama training.  This training, orchestrated by Aaron Wood, was started in January (detailed here).  Before their departure to Panama on Sept. 7, they will have spent 8 days in the Florida Museum of Natural History learning about the identification and curation of fossils, and one day in the field in the Gainesville-area Haile Quarry, excavating fossil crabs, moldic invertebrates and a few vertebrate fossils.  The heat of the Florida summer will be a preview of what they will encounter in Panama.  Interspersed between these activities will be short, informal paper discussion sessions and presentations by some of the PCP PIRE regulars, such as Bruce MacFadden, Doug Jones, Catalina Pimiento, Austin Hendy, Aldo Rincon, and Claudia Grant.

Here are a few photos from their second day on the job:

hannah

Hannah O’Neill prepares an oreodont skull collected during the 2014 All Hands trip in Nebraska.

Adam Freierman

Intern Adam Freierman is cleaning a fossil horse found during the 2014 All Hands trip to Nebraska earlier this month.

lilliandaniel

Interns Daniel Mercado (right) and Lillian Pearson listen as Aldo Rincon teaches them how to identify some of the fossils found in Las Cascadas.

All Hands Meeting, Nebraska

PCP PIRE just wrapped up the 2014 All Hands Meeting in Fort Robinson, Nebraska.  Why Nebraska?  That’s in the center of the USA, not really close to Panama.
The fossils deposited in the badlands of northwest Nebraska, however, are the same age as those in the Centernario Fauna of Panama.  They are also the same age as the Thomas Farm site in Florida.  Nebraska holds the type sections of 5 of the North American Land Mammal Ages (NALMA).  Bringing a group of researchers to view (and collect from) type localities allows both students and professionals to develop a context for the Cenozoic fauna they encounter in Panama.  More about the All Hands meeting is in the PCP PIRE August eNewsletter (sign up here to receive our eNews monthly).
In the meantime, here are a few photos, showcasing what we did:

ToadStool

Scene from within Toadstool Geologic Park, within the Ogallala National Grasslands. We had a special collections permit and collected numerous fossils (and left behind far more!) within the park. Those fossils will reside in the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Barboza

Summer 2014 Intern Michelle Barboza excavates a fossil tooth on the Chadronian flats in the Ogallala National Grasslands of northwest Nebraska.

Farewell, Panama: My Departing Thoughts

Tomorrow morning we leave Panama to travel back home to the United States (specifically to Ft. Robinson, Nebraska for the PCP PIRE All-Hands Meeting). This summer has been a very interesting experience, living and working in Panama. There are many things that I will miss about it once the wheels lift off from the tarmac at Tocumen Airport early tomorrow morning and our summer 2014 Panama adventure comes to an end. Here’s my laundry list:

The Fossils: We experienced a great diversity of fossil collecting locations and situations, from the Panama Canal to the beaches and rivers of the Azuero Peninsula. Many of the fossils we’ve collected may end up becoming important for research purposes, so there is great research potential that has been generated via our collecting efforts in various regions and geologic formations in Panama.

The People: We met and befriended a staggering amount of wonderful people from multiple countries (most notably Panama and Colombia) throughout our internship, from the students and faculty of UniAndes who we joined in the Azuero Peninsula to the interns and research fellows at STRI. We hope to maintain contact with many of these people in the future.

The Culture: Learning and practicing Spanish (be it with a taxi driver, STRI security guard, UniAndes student, or average Panamanian passerby) in a Latin American country has been a great learning experience. There really is no better way to learn a new language and culture than to become fully immersed in it by living and working abroad.

The Environment: Aside from the sometimes debilitating heat and humidity, Panama is an incredibly beautiful place. From the rainforest-covered mountains shrouded in clouds to the coconut tree-studded beaches of the Caribbean, we’ve had the privilege to visit some truly amazing places this summer. Living and working in the tropics has made us stronger mentally and physically, and given us a better appreciation for how easy fieldwork in temperate climates really is compared to fieldwork in the hot, humid, and heavily forested tropics.

The Wildlife: Being the sole zoologist of this intern cohort, I was completely overwhelmed by the striking biodiversity of Panama, especially the birds. Weekend excursions to Pipeline Road and other prime wildlife-viewing sites were experiences that I won’t soon forget. I saw some fantastic birds, lizards, snakes, butterflies, and even had a run-in with a group of peccaries in the dark. These great experiences have made me decide that this will not be my last visit to Panama; when the next opportunity to return presents itself, I will definitely take it so that I can continue to explore the country and see more of its astonishing wildlife.

Ancon Hill: Our home in Panama, this iconic high point on the southern fringe of Panama City will always be special to us. There’s nothing like living in a place where you can hike 30 minutes up winding switchbacks to incredible views of both Panama City and the Panama Canal…

Downtown Panama City from Ancon Hill

Downtown Panama City from near the top of Ancon Hill. Photo courtesy of E. Whiting.

…and now it’s on to Ft. Robinson, Nebraska for the PCP PIRE All-Hands Meeting, from which us 4 interns will each go our separate ways (be it to graduate school, back to finish undergraduate degrees, or to travel abroad). To our followers, we thank you for reading the blog and hope that you enjoyed it. We enjoyed sharing our summer internship experiences with you. Farewell!

Farewell from the Summer 2014 PCP PIRE Intern Cohort!

Farewell from the Summer 2014 PCP PIRE Intern Cohort, from the Panama Canal! Photo courtesy of R. Henderek.

An Average Morning of Fieldwork Along the Panama Canal

Ever wonder what an average morning of fieldwork along the Panama Canal is like for a PCP PIRE intern? Well, here’s a photo-documented account of just that…

Between 4:30 and 5:00 AM (Wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed in field clothes)

The early intern gets the fossil...or gets to the field before it gets too hot.

The early intern gets the fossil…or gets to the field before it gets too hot.

Breakfast, the most important meal of the day!

Breakfast, the most important meal of the day!

Field clothes; chosen to minimize exposure to the sun and protect the eyes and hands.

Field clothes; chosen to minimize exposure to the sun and protect the eyes and hands.

5:45 AM (Walk up to STRI-CTPA and load field gear into STRI truck)

6:00 AM (Depart for the Panama Canal in STRI truck)

En route to the Panama Canal, behind an iconic "diablo rojo" bus and taxi on the road.

En route to the Panama Canal, behind an iconic “diablo rojo” bus and taxi on the road.

Centenario Bridge; we have to drive over it and then pass below it in order to reach our fossil localities.

Centenario Bridge; we have to drive over it and then pass below it in order to reach our fossil localities.

6:45(ish) AM (Arrive at first field site along the Panama Canal and start working)

A foggy view of the Panama Canal at sunrise from near our first locality of the day.

A foggy view of the Panama Canal at sunrise from near our first locality of the day.

Intern Evan Whiting (left) and Supervisor Jorge Moreno-Bernal (right) walking to the first locality of the day.

Intern Evan Whiting (left) and Supervisor Jorge Moreno-Bernal (right) walking to the first locality of the day.

A huge ship passes quietly by in the canal as we work at our fossil locality.

A huge ship passes quietly by in the canal as we work at our fossil locality.

10:00(ish) AM (Pack up and head to another locality along the canal)

The wrath of Jorge and Evan: piles of broken sandstone concretions that can contain fossil leaves, seeds, and even vertebrates!

The wrath of Jorge and Evan: piles of broken sandstone concretions that can contain fossil leaves, seeds, and even vertebrates!

A broken, indeterminate bone fragment I found shortly after arriving at our second locality of the day. Glue was applied to prevent it from falling apart, and toilet paper was used to wrap it for safe transport back from the field.

A broken, indeterminate bone fragment I found shortly after arriving at our second locality of the day. Glue was applied to prevent it from falling apart, and toilet paper was used to wrap it for safe transport back from the field.

I label every fossil I collect with a unique field number, and write this on a piece of tape I apply to the toilet paper-wrapped specimen, the collection bag I then place it in, and in my field notebook for future reference.

I label every fossil I collect with a unique field number, and write this on a piece of tape I apply to the toilet paper-wrapped specimen, the collection bag I then place it in, and in my field notebook for future reference.

12:00 PM (Pack up and head home in STRI truck)

The view of the Panama Canal and the Pedro Miguel Locks through the window of our field vehicle driving across Centenario Bridge following our morning of fieldwork along the canal.

The view of the Panama Canal and the Pedro Miguel Locks through the window of our field vehicle driving across Centenario Bridge following our morning of fieldwork along the canal.

12:30(ish) PM (Arrive back at apartment; eat lunch, take a cold shower, and change into clean clothes before heading back up to STRI-CTPA to prepare and catalog fossils, work on research projects, etc. for the rest of the work day)

Lunch! Well-deserved after a long, hot morning of fieldwork along the canal. After lunch, it's back up to work in the lab for the afternoon.

Lunch! Well-deserved after a long, hot morning of fieldwork along the canal. After lunch, it’s back up to work in the lab for the afternoon.

Corvina con Patacones…a Latin American dinner!

Last night I tried my hand at making a Latin American dinner for myself consisting of cooked fish filet (corvina, a type of saltwater drum) and fried plantains (patacones). Here’s how it went…

First, I soaked my corvina filet in lemon juice with pepper and garlic for about 10 minutes. While I waited for this, I cut up my (still green and not quite ripe) plantains and started heating up a small pot filled with vegetable oil with which to cook them in.

Corvina con Patacones 2Corvina con Patacones 3

Next, I started to slowly cook my seasoned corvina filet on a skillet and put the plantain slices into the just barely boiling pot of vegetable oil. You want to let them cook until they are a light brown color before carefully removing them. If you want to add spices or seasoning (I like just a tiny hint of cinnamon and garlic) to your cooking plantains, now is a good time to do it.

Corvina con Patacones 4Corvina con Patacones 5

While my corvina continued to cook, I used my Pataconera (2 pieces of flat wood connected by a hinge) to smash the fried plantain slices flat. Then, I put the flattened slices back in the vegetable oil to cook again. This time, you want to leave them in the oil until they are slightly darker brown in color and no longer soft (crispy is what we’re going for). When you finally remove the doubly cooked and flattened plantain slices, add just a little bit of salt while they’re still slightly moist from the oil bath. Let them sit to cool and soak in the flavor.

Corvina con Patacones 7Corvina con Patacones 9

Once the patacones and corvina are done cooking, plate and enjoy!

Corvina con Patacones 10Corvina con Patacones 11

 

Sharks from the Miocene

VP UF262182a VP UF262182d

Above is the front and back of a tooth of Carcharocles chubutensis, UF262182. This fossil was found in the Culebra Formation in Panama (Miocene).   Although this shark was not as large as the famous C. megalodon, it could reach large sizes—at 12.2 m (40 feet), it was about the length of a city bus! The tooth featured above is about half the length of the largest C. chubutensis that has been found.  A paper detailing this (and other fossil shark teeth found in Panama) can be accessed here.

Peccaries in Panama

Catagonus_wagneri_1_-_Phoenix_Zoo_peccary

Modern Chacoan Peccary in the Phoenix, AZ zoo. Photo courtesy of Dave Pape, via wikimedia.

Cynorca occidentaleVP UF234400d

Lower jaw of “Cynorca” occidentale UF234400

This is the lower jaw of “Cynorca” occidentale UF234400, early to middle Miocene, 19-14.8 mya. This extinct peccary was part of the Centenario Fauna in Panama, and is the first fossil peccary found in Panama. Read more about this fossil find in the MacFadden et al. publication in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, linked here.

Lake Alajuela

This past Monday, Bruce McFadden, principal investigator of the PCP PIRE program, arrived with a group of 10 middle school and high school teachers –  participants in the GABI RET program. Together with Jorge Moreno and the PCP PIRE interns, they will be exploring fossil localities throughout Panama, learning about science – not as a collection of facts, but as science in action.

The first site to be visited was the locality of Alajuela, a lake in Chagres National Park, an hour from Panama City.

Bruce McFadden, director of the GABI RET program, introduces participants to Lake Alajuela

PCP PIRE intern Evan and supervisor Jorge explain to the GABI-RET participants how to create and prepare a plaster jacket.

Fragments of a fossil turtle, in place, shown with scale.

Evan Whiting, PCP PIRE intern, prepares the fossil turtle for a plaster jacket.

Laura, of the GABI RET program, searches for fossils along the shores of Lake Alajuela.

Scott, of the GABI RET program, finds the first fossil of the day – a megaladon tooth!

PCP PIRE intern Robyn Henderek finds the second fossil of the day – a lemon shark tooth!

Close up of fossilized lemon shark tooth.

Megan of the GABI RET program.

Jason of the GABI RET program examines the stratigraphy along the shores of Lake Alajuela.

Wesley von Dassow, PCP PIRE intern, demonstrates the dip (tilt) of the beds (horizontal layers of rock).

Honey, of the GABI RET program, displays a newly excavated shark tooth.

Finding Shark Teeth Along the Shores of Lake Alajuela

On Monday of this week, I was fortunate to make several interesting fossil finds along the shores of Lake Alajuela, in Chagres National Park. The water levels were very low, which facilitated the finding of vertebrate fossils by exposing the correct sediments which they can be found in. Less than 30 minutes into the field day, I came across a chunk of fossil turtle, and after some digging, realized that there was a lot more turtle there. After working on the turtle for a while, I started walking along the exposed banks of the lakeshore, following the fossiliferous sediments.

I walked for much further than I had expected to be able to, given the low lake levels and large amount of exposed outcrop; then I found something really neat. The lake water was nearly lapping the fossil itself, so I decided to collect it in case the water levels rose or a wave came by unexpectedly and washed it away. It was a beautifully-preserved Carcharocles megaladon tooth. Certainly not a big one by any means for a “meg” (especially compared to the hand-sized behemoths that can be found in Florida creeks), but still a large shark tooth nonetheless. It was an exciting moment, finding my very first “meg” tooth in Panama. Hopefully I can find more on my return trips to Lake Alajuela this summer before the end of the internship!

C. megaladon tooth from the shores of Lake Alajuela, Chagres National Park. Photo courtesy of E. Whiting.

C. megaladon tooth from the shores of Lake Alajuela, Chagres National Park. Photo courtesy of E. Whiting.

Meet Robyn!

Hola! My name is Robyn Henderek and I am one of the four PCP-PIRE Summer 2014 interns. I am a rising senior at Lafayette College in Easton, PA double majoring in Geology and Anthropology. Within the field of geology, I am interested in studying paleo-environmental reconstruction especially pertaining to human evolution during the Plio-Pleistocene in East Africa. This past spring, I had the pleasure of working with Dr. Craig Feibel of Rutgers University on the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project. My job was to record the stratigraphy of a 200-meter long continental core from Nariokotome, Kenya. In the same vein, I recently returned from a three month-long field course in the Turkana Basin, Kenya where I studied pre-historic archaeology, vertebrate paleontology and geology.

Robyn excavating a juvenile Deinotherium from Turkana, Kenya.

Robyn excavating a juvenile Deinotherium from Turkana, Kenya.

In spite of this, my interest in rocks began long before I could even pronounce conglomerate. The rocky coast of Maine first captured my attention not for it’s scientific significance but because the weathered schists and beautiful white granite intrusions made for a great playground. I would spend my summer days hopping from rock to rock, looking in the tide pools for crabs and starfish while exploring the small world I lived in.

When I got older, I learned how much more interesting our planet is, both in time and space. Now, I am so excited to be here in the Panama Canal Basin this summer exploring the Miocene.