Paleontological Society – Paleo-Profiles
Hello, intrepid readers! This month’s Paleo-Profile centers on Society member Kevin Madalena, geologist and paleontologist from Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, and a field researcher for the Utah Dine Bikeyah. We’re so excited to have you join us for this month’s interview, Kevin!
Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you first become interested in paleontology?
Thank you Tara for asking me to be a part of the Paleontological Society’s Paleo-Profiles! [Tara’s Note: You are MOST welcome!]
My Acknowledgement: I want to acknowledge Mother Earth, The Mothers, and the Matriarchs from Jemez and Pecos Villages. For permitting me to study Life’s Life Path and the worlds before. I honor them and Thank You.
I am excited to contribute in any way I can in this exciting blog. My name is Kevin Madalena and I am from Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico. I am also a geologist and a paleontologist too! I am the father of two awesome daughters Sofia who is 13 and Araceli is 11 years old. I am also a Native American and from the Puebloan people in north central New Mexico. I am a farmer as well and I love books! I am also a conservationist and a field researcher for the wonderful non-profit Utah Dine Bikeyah, which is out of Salt Lake City, Utah. I am assisting in the defense of our public lands, our earth and environmental sciences on public lands along with the Ancestral Pueblo lands and migration lands.
I have always loved fossils and rocks since I was a boy growing up on my reservation. I owe this obsession to my parents, James Roger and Karen Madalena, in they inadvertently began my journey wanting to be a paleontologist. During the early 1980’s, my father was the Sandoval County commissioner and was a tribal official here in Jemez Pueblo. I remember in he was sent on assignment for Jemez’s concerns to Washington D.C. on occasion. He told me he always made it a goal in stopping at the Smithsonian Institute’s bookstore and just began picking up and buying dinosaur books for my enjoyment. The precious dinosaur books were only reinforcing the heavy influence from “Land Of The Lost” television series, with the classic dinosaur movies “The Planet of The Dinosaurs” “The Land That Time Forgot” along with Godzilla.
I never outgrew my fascination and obsession with fossils, dinosaurs and rocks. I tried being a sports medicine doctor, but it didn’t work in my life plan, and I fell back on continuing my education in studying geology and paleontology. Tyrannosaurus rex is also the genus directly responsible in wanting to be a paleontologist!
Thank you for sharing your story! What else do you enjoy about paleontology?
I absolutely enjoy paleontology because we are witnessing the staggering amount of time and life in the fossil record and presently on our Mother Earth too. For example, the vertebrates during the Late Triassic in Southwest United States, in it’s fascinating in the variety of tetrapods were coexisting along with the first dinosaur known, Coelophysis bauri. Bipedal crocodiles, archosaurs who tried hard being dinosaurs, terrifying carnivores, armored herbivores. The spectacular variety of these animals suddenly go extinct then new entire genus appears. The recovery of biota from Mother Earth fascinates me!
Wow, your perspective on paleontology is so refreshing, it’s great to hear about paleontology from the perspective of a tribal member.
Tell us, what’s your favorite fossil, and why?
I have two favorite fossils and they mean the world to me. The first vertebrate fossil I officially discovered on my reservation lands is a partial neural spine from the Permian age eupelycosaur Dimetrodon occidentalis. I found it while on a leisurely walk in the maroon/purple Permian age muds and conglomerates on the westside of the Jemez village. I didn’t realize in the rarity of Dimetrodon in the Jemez Mountain Region/Sierra Nascimiento Mountains until Carnegie Museum paleontologist David Berman and California State University’s Stuart Sumida informed me, the last individual known from the region was discovered in 1979 by David Berman and the second one was in Jemez Pueblo in 2007!
My second favorite fossil is of a partial shoulder girdle I found of an enormous metoposaur found on the Late Triassic age Salitral Formation on Jemez reservation lands. I had wonderful assistance and mentorship from paleontologist Stuart Sumida, Beth Rega, Jeffery Martz and geologists Kate Zeigler and Shari Kelley in calculating in this is the largest metoposaur known and published. There have been different individuals found near the locality and they are getting bigger!
Both Dimetrodon occidentalis and the enormous Buettnaria (Koskinonodon) are both published as abstracts* with the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and Geological Society of America, and are coauthored by paleontologist Stuart Sumida, Beth Rega, and geologist Kate Zeigler.
Tell us more about your involvement in the intersection between science, public lands, and tribal wisdom?
Indigenous knowledge has always been present along the Ancestral migration routes from present day Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico, for example. The hybridization of maize, potatoes were engineered, cross pollinated and hybridized to make crops pest and drought resistant, along with having higher crop yields for the harvest, because of having more mouths to feed.
The ancestral Puebloan people (the villages in Chaco Canyon, Canyon De Chelly, the Bears Ears National Monument, and the Grand Staircase Escalante) have remains of solar calendars and a star map to track planting, equinox and solstice events, and the harvest seasons, along with navigation. Those designs are still in use in our contemporary New Mexico villages and Hopi in Arizona. I am assisting in the conservation of these ancestral structures and knowledge through the conservation work with Utah Dine Bikeyah and valuable assistance from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. I still utilize this knowledge handed down to me by my grandparents and parents to have a more well-rounded understanding of Mother Earth and life evolution, through the Western teachings of universities and museums along with the traditional, Indigenous knowledge.
The present and tenuous state of our climate on our Mother Earth, along with the Trump Administration’s willful disregard of science, EPA policies, Indigenous/Tribal consultation which is federal law, with unlawful reductions of our public lands within the Bears Ears National Monument, the Grand Staircase Escalante and the Chaco Region erases the protections for drilling, fracking and mining on public lands. These reductions would be environmentally catastrophic to our public lands and national parks, along with mutilating and destroying Indigenous holy lands. Recently, the poor Tohono O’odham’s holy lands and burial areas in Arizona have been desecrated to build the obscene border wall in southern Arizona, dividing Mexico and the United States. The tribe wasn’t consulted as per federal law from the Trump Administration. In my heart, it is in my mandate as a Jemez tribal member and as a scientist to assist in helping others, to conserve and protect public lands for our fellow Americans, with my children’s birthrights, while using Indigenous and Western Knowledge.
It is also fascinating to my ancestors, along with the ancestral Dine (Navajo) people, along with the Utes, Apaches, to name a few, they were familiar and knew about the extinct biotas from trace fossils and vertebrate fossil remains. Theropod footprints and a paired petroglyph of a large bird are known to be found in the ancestral structures.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I am grateful and honored to have shared my thoughts and journey with you all, and please visit our website www.utahdinebikeyah.org and www.vertpaleo.org to learn more of our efforts in conservation and support. Thank you so much! Dinosaurs are always cool and I am still fascinated in monsters like the giant theropods were once living animals, and we see their extant descendants migrating for the winter in the skies or revere them as birds of prey.
Thank you, Kevin, for your insight into your path to paleontology and your thoughts on public land conservation!
*See: Madalena, K.; Sumida, S.; Zeigler, K.; Rega, E. (2007). A new record of the Early Permian pelycosaurian-grade synapsid Dimetrodon (Eupelycosauria: Sphenacodontidae) from the Lower Cutler Group (Early Permian) of Jemez Pueblo, north-central New Mexico. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 27 (3, Suppl): 110A.
Madalena, K; Zeigler, K; Sumida, S (2012) . An Unusually Large Metoposaurid From The Salitral Formation Of The Chinle Group (Upper Triassic: Carnian) On Lands Belonging To The Pueblo Of Jemez. 2012 New Mexico Geological Society Annual Spring Meeting. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. April 2012 [Link]