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Meeting of the Americas came early, study suggests

Crystals from Panama found in Colombia suggest continents connected over 13 million years ago

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2:00pm, April 9, 2015
Americas map

CONTINENTAL CONNECTION  The seaway separating North and South America, illustrated as it was 35 million years ago (left), may have closed more than 13 million years ago and about 10 million years earlier than previously thought, new evidence suggests. Today, Central America separates the modern Atlantic and Pacific oceans (right).

North and South America may have hooked up 10 million years earlier than thought.

Many scientists think that the seaway separating the two continents closed about 3 million years ago, sparking mass animal migrations and an ice age in the Northern Hemisphere. After analyzing crystals excavated from an ancient South American streambed, researchers report in the April 10 Science that this continental connection must have taken place before 13 million years ago. Although not all experts are convinced, the researchers argue that the unearthed crystals originated in Panama and flowed down a river that straddled both continents.

“The only origin for these crystal fragments we found in Colombia is in Panama,” says lead author Camilo Montes, a geologist at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. “There had to have been a river flowing over a land connection 13 million

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