Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tap Talk Tuesday with paleontologist Kevin Maximo Madalena!

Photo provided by Kevin Maximo Madalena.
My name is Kevin Maximo Madalena and I am geologist/paleontologist. I am from, and a member, of The Pueblo of Jemez, New Mexico. I am from a reservation which is located in northwest New Mexico. I am helping my tribe with our natural resources and to preserve our culture which includes our fossil and cultural record. I went to school at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Earth Science and I have worked as an assistant to the Collections Manager/Conservator at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, and as a field geologist with my Pueblo's Natural Resources Department and currently a wonderful undertaking in trying to use geothermal energy as a renewable resource so my people may have energy and jobs!

Question 1: 
You are one of my heroes in the field of paleontology. Who did you admire growing up?

Aww.. Gary, I am very flattered by your very kind words and thank you, and I am a huge fan of your website and blog as well! Growing up a normal boy in a very rural reservation in northwest New Mexico, I admired a lot of people growing up, from Jerry Rice, Magic Johnson, my grandparents to Robert Bakker I had a group of people I really admired, but my parents are the ones that have had my true admiration because of their hard work, sacrifice, unconditional love and support in raising my three brothers, sister and I.

Question 2:
At what age did you get inspired to pursue a career in paleontology?

I personally and honestly don’t remember in how early I started, but my parents do recall it was a very early start! During my father’s infant political career and service, he was the Tribal Administrator here at home in Jemez Pueblo starting from 1978. During his regular obligations in the trips for tribal business in Washington D.C, my father would stop at the Smithsonian Institute and regularly buy me dinosaur and ancient life and earth books. During my early learning years, starting from headstart, I remember receiving those books from his luggage every time he returned from Washington D.C at around being five years old! Also, my mom reinforced my love for dinosaurs as she always purchased the old large bags of tiny plastic dinosaurs we used to find in the supermarkets!  I never outgrew this fascination with dinosaurs and ancient life and I have been hooked and compelled ever since!
Photo provided by Kevin Maximo Madalena.
Question 3:
What was your favorite dinosaur growing up? What dinosaur is your favorite now?

As with all little children, especially boys, growing up with dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex is really the main reason why we are fans of dinosaurs! In general, I absolutely love giant theropods, but Tyrannosaurus rex is still, and always be my favorite dinosaur. Actually, Tyrannosaurus is really the main reason why I became a paleontologist!

Question 4:
Paleontology is such a diverse field these days involving many disciplines. What advice would you give to an aspiring paleontologist today?

When an aspiring paleontolgists are working their way up the ladder of paleo-edification, albeit being an enthusiast or an undergraduate, one has to approach the field with an open mind. My main suggestion and advice to anyone studying paleontology is to immerse oneself to paleobotany, invertebrate paleontology, sedimentlogy and stratigraphy, vertebrate paleontology and the like, to see what aspect of the field my intrigue you. An aspect, or a topic of research from a particular discipline of paleontology might capture and pique an interest if one becomes enlightened in paleontology as a whole!

Question 5:
Coelophysis is my favorite dinosaur that roamed New Mexico.  What is your favorite dinosaur from New Mexico?

I will say, Tyrannosaurus rex is my favorite New Mexico dinosaur! Tyrannosaurus is found in the Late Cretaceous McRae Formation in the southern part of the Land of Enchantment, Tyrannosaurus indet. Is also found in the Ojo Alamo Sandstones in the San Juan Basin, northwest New Mexico. Finally the first ichnogenus (foot print trace fossil) of Tyrannosauripus pillmori of T.rex was discovered new Cimarron, New Mexico as well! Ceolophysis is also a personal favorite as well!
Photo provided by Kevin Maximo Madalena.
Question 6:
What was or is your favorite research project? What are some of your current projects?

My favorite research project is embarking in how the Paleozoic sections are positioned here inside the reservation in Jemez Pueblo. Massive uncomformities, overturned sections, deformation and large amounts of chopped up blocking and faults made by the Laramide orogony activity of the Nascimiento Uplift on Jemez Pueblo’s Westside, have made this endeavor quite the challenge. There are large amounts of vertebrate fossil material tumbling out of these massive faults, (including Dimetrodon and Eyrops!) but finding the origins of some of the loose and numerous post cranial material has been frustrating! It is my favorite because it is extremely challenging!

My current project is trying to similarly figure out in how the Late Triassic age Moenkopi, Salitral, Agua Zarca, Petrified Forest Formations of the Chinle Group is distributed around lands belonging to my people here in Jemez Pueblo. There are currently animals coming out of all the mentioned formations, especially an extremely large individual of the metoposaur Koskinonodon (Buettneria), many parts and dermal scutes of phytosaurs, and aetosaurs, shuuvosaurids, and the diapsid archosauromorph Trilophosaurus. (No dinosaurs yet!) These sections are similarly chopped up by the Nascimiento Uplift, but my future goal is to try and match up the corresponding temporal sections to the Dockham Group in Texas, the Ghost Ranch and the Petrified National Forest in Arizona!

Question 7:
Jurassic Park was the movie I remember as a kid that fueled my passion for dinosaurs. What was your most memorable movie?

Wow, Jurassic Park was the movie that continued to stoke the fire inside of me for paleontology as well, so I still consider the movie as one of my most memorable! Jurassic Park is 1A on my list for being influential but the number one movie would be the 1978 science fiction Planet of Dinosaurs! The stop-motion animation of the movie’s dinosaurs are great!

Question 8:
I remember meeting my first professional paleontologist. Do you remember the first paleontologist you ever met? Were you a nervous wreck?

I first met my professional paleontologist when I was about ten years old. My parents took my brothers and I to the grand opening of The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque in the year 1986. Dr. Spencer Lucas was hosting a question and answer forum, and much to my nervous delight, my dad helped me walk up to him and asked him if there were any Tyrannosaurus rex remains in New Mexico. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck because I was talking and stammering going a thousand miles per hour! I was elated that he answered my question!

Question 9:
Dinosaurs and the animals that lived at the same time as them were amazing creatures. Why do you feel dinosaurs continue to fascinate us?

I think dinosaurs keep fascinating us because they were enormous, enigmatic and our imaginations have completely run amok in what these animals are! Even with all the current research, we still don’t have an actual picture in what these animals actually look like, what color they were (with the exception of Archaeopteryx), and how they lived in families units of packs or herds and behavior. Fossil material can only teach us so much!

Question 10:
What is your favorite time period?

My favorite time period is the Cretaceous Period. I will shamelessly admit that I am a theropod myopian! We all know that the theropods grew their biggest and the most variety during the last age of the dinosaurs! During my years of employment at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in the Late Cretaceous age badlands of the San Juan Basin and have witnessed parts of dromaeosaurs, ornithomimosaurs and tyrannosaurs weathering out of sections right into the top of the bentonitic clays! I have had the extreme pleasure in working in the San Juan Basin with Dr. Thomas Williamson, and in a different time, Dr. Robert Sullivan.
Photo provided by Kevin Maximo Madalena.
Question 11:
I consider New Mexico my home away from home and where I still participate in my college's field classes. What is about New Mexico that makes it so unique for hunting prehistoric animals?

There are many reasons whey New Mexico is very unique for hunting the remains of prehistoric animals! New Mexico is located in the southern eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau which have the Paleozoic- Mesozoic age very fossil rich stratas from the San Juan Basin, the Hagan Basin,  Tucumcari Mountian’s Late Triassic sections, New Mexico’s portion of the Permian Basin and the mammalian fossil dominated Espanola Basin, and the Ghost Ranch to name a few in the vicinity of lands owned by the State of New Mexico have had an extremely rich variety of fauna in the fossil record and have contributed immensely to paleontology and was a part of the famous Bone Wars with E.D Cope and Othniel Marsh! A lot of the geologic sections in New Mexico have not been mapped thoroughly, or analyzed using paleo magnetism, stratigraphy and other analytical methods, because of the vastness of lands within the state and many of the reservation lands of the nineteen Pueblos, the Navajo Nation and the two Apache tribes are off limits. There is still so much potential here in New Mexico, but we just need more time!

Question 12:
Geology, among many disciplines of study, is such a vital subject when studying the past. Why do you feel this background is important to know when hunting dinosaurs?

I sincerely believe, and it is of my opinion, that having a geology background is the only way to go in delving into paleontology. When I started as an undergraduate at New Mexico Tech in Socorro, New Mexico, I attempted to get into paleontology through the means of evolutionary biology.  In 1995, the late Dr. David Norman at New Mexico Tech was my first advisor, and he made a very important point that changed my way of thinking permanently. I attempted to jump ship from the Earth and Environmental Sciences to the Biology Department. “Well Kevin, you need to learn and know where to look in time to find your critters.” I have stayed in Earth Science ever since!

Question 13:
The Triassic is my favorite time period. Why do you love it?

I am happy to see that the Triassic is your favorite time period! For a bit, the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods were really the only time in the geologic age that had my full on attention because of the Dinosaurs. During my time at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, I met my wonderful colleagues Doctors Kate Zeigler, Sterling Nesbitt and Randall Irmis, along with an acquaintance Dr. Andrew Heckert. This extremely bright and the best group, taught me the importance of the Triassic Period research and how New Mexico fits in the research as a whole. I learned immensely of the faunas coming out of Tucumcari, the Ghost Ranch and its surrounding areas. I was open to change and I discovered how na├»ve I was in what other vertebrate species were alive other then phytosaurs, Coelophysis and Postosuchus! The Triassic Period is currently a favorite as well because of the work here at home!
Photo provided by Kevin Maximo Madalena.
Question 14: 
What else do you enjoy? What other interesting hobbies do you have when you are not doing research?

I really enjoy being a single father of my two daughters, Sofia and Araceli. Raising them and watching them grow and develop has been the greatest thrill, and honor of my life! I enjoy playing and spending time with my children as well. I really enjoy reading science fiction and history, collecting action figures and continuing on in being a farmer here in Jemez Pueblo during the spring and summers, and into the harvest! We are an agricultural tribe and I love to continue on the tradition of the old ways. Finally, I enjoy jogging as well!

Question 15:
Have you ever been to New Jersey?

I have never been to New Jersey Gary.. If I am in the vicinity for work or in that direction, it will be my first time ever to visit, in visiting you Buddy!

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Cheers!