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Technology, Engineering and Incredible Discoveries Mark the Panama Canal Expansion

Canal de Panamá, imagen en Flickr del usuario Jose Jiménez (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Panama Canal, image on Flickr by user Jose Jiménez (CC BY-SA 2.0).

On June 26, 2016, a day that Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela described as “historic for the nation,” the expansion of the Panama Canal on the Atlantic Panamanian coast was inaugurated in the capital and in several provinces amidst national flags and the sound of music played by students and bands.

The Panama Canal is a man-made waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean at the narrowest point of the Isthmus of Panama. It has a total length of 77 miles and was originally inaugurated on August 15, 1914. For over a hundred years this short and fairly cheap key conduit has sped up the economic and commercial exchange in the region. The recently opened expansion project took around ten years to complete.

Chinese vessel Cosco Shipping Panama was the first ship that sailed through the newly extended Panama Canal, thus opening traffic into the new locks at Agua Clara at the Atlantic watershed.

According to the official Panama Canal website, the decision to build a third transit lane came after thorough studies and analysis and it aimed to double its capacity. The website also shows the progress of the expansion program with graphics and includes photos and videos.

On Twitter, users celebrated this new phase of the canal, which has shortened distances in the American continent. Some talked about the next project, whatever that may be:

Go, Panama. Let's plan now the next mega-project. The transisthmus train from Bocas to Darien and reinvent cities.

Some others compared realities from different eras:

The Panama Canal I visited is now a tiny little canal compared to what's being inaugurated today.

There are also images of the Cosco Shipping Panama, the first ship that went through the expanded Canal:

A local outlet posted a video showing people gathered there, and the BBC recalled how the Canal changed the world:

People at Cocolí waiting to witness Cosco Shipping Panama sailing through the expanded Canal.

Five things that changed in the world with the Panama Canal.

Hidden treasures

During the decade the Panama Canal expansion works were taking place, more than 2,200 different archeological objects were found and classified, thus telling the commercial history of the isthmus of Panama since pre-Columbian times:

Dientes, dagas, chimeneas, restos de puentes y cementerios abandonados por las compañías de Francia y Estados Unidos a principios del siglo pasado, evidencian el papel de tránsito humano que ha tenido Panamá.

Teeth, daggers, chimneys, remains of bridges and cemeteries abandoned by French and American firms at the beginning of the last century show the role that Panama has had in human transit.

Tomás Mendizábal, the man responsible for classifying the items found during the various stages of the expansion process, said, “I find it odd, […] incredible, to dig in a little village lost in the middle of the Panama jungle and find European products along with handicrafts from Mexico.”

Since 2014, some media outlets have covered the amazing archaeological treasures that were emerging from the mountains of removed soil in the working area:

Durante las excavaciones, voladura de cerros y tala de espesa vegetación, se han hallado fósiles de unos 3.000 invertebrados y 500 vertebrados, y de más de 250 plantas, como las de un bosque consumido por el fuego de una explosión volcánica, precisó Hortensia Broce [bióloga especialista en paleontología de la Autoridad del Canal].
[…] también salieron fragmentos de objetos de la época precolombina, colonial, departamental […] y republicana […]. Trozos de vasijas de cerámica, puntas de flecha y parte de un ajuar funerario precolombino, una daga del siglo XVI, una chimenea de 1908, una colección de botellas, vagones y cubos para mezclar concreto de la época de construcción del Canal, aparecieron en zonas del Pacífico y el Atlántico.

During the digging, mountain blasting and clearing of thick vegetation, about 3,000 invertebrate and 500 vertebrate fossils were found, and also over 250 plants from a forest consumed by fire of a volcanic explosion, pointed out Hortensia Broce [biologist, specialist in Paleontology of the Canal Authority].
[…] fragments of objects from pre-Columbian, colonial, departmental […] and republican times […] also emerged. Bits of ceramic pots, arrowheads, and parts of a pre-Columbian grave, a 16-century dagger, a chimney from 1908, a collection of bottles, wagons and buckets for mixing concrete dating from the time when the Canal was built, were found both in the Pacific and Atlantic areas.

In 2009, fossil teeth of Central American primates appeared as well. Jonathan Bloch, leader of the University of Florida team that investigated this finding, commented:

[…] estos son los dientes de un mono de Sudamérica que, de alguna manera, logró hacer lo que ningún otro animal pudo hacer en aquella época: cruzar la vía marítima de Centroamérica hacia la Norteamérica tropical hace 21 millones de años.

[…] these are the teeth of a South American monkey that, somehow, managed to achieve what no other animal was able to do back then: cross the Central American water route to tropical North America, some 21 million of years ago.

Also on Twitter were photos and videos of the findings that have emerged during the expansion works:

Archaeological treasures were found during expansion of Panama Canal.

The archaeological treasures found in the historic “trash” of the Panama Canal.

A tour around some of the archeological findings of the expansion of the Panama Canal, such as bottles, weapons…

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