Felisa Aguilar in the field / Photo: Mauricio Marat
Within the framework of World Women’s Day, we want to share a fragment of the story of two paleontologists who have participated in important discoveries in Coahuila. This is part of our latest project, Giants in the Desert .
By: Jessica Jaramillo
Felisa Aguilar: From the axolotls to the desert
As a child in the Valley of Mexico, Felisa liked to spend rainy days looking for axolotls in the garden of her grandmother’s house. The treasures he found in those days were very different from those he would come across years later, several kilometres from where he grew up.
Her interest was focused on how animals developed, a curiosity that led her to study Biology at the FES Zaragoza of the UNAM. Along the way, he came across fossils, the remains of petrified animals.
Little Felisa did not imagine then that, many years later, she would move to Coahuila, to take charge of the Technical and Legal Protection of Paleontological Heritage project. As many fossils are usually found in Coahuila, they wanted to keep a record to address citizen complaints. People call and let them know that they saw something that caught their attention and then they send the specialists to visit the place and determine if it is a bone or a prehistoric animal, to prevent the material from being lost.
Said project, part of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) , began in 2005 and included the registration of amateur or institutional collections. A year earlier Felisa had finished her master’s degree in Biological Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
One fine day, José Espinosa , a resident of the Guadalupe Alamitos ejido, in the municipality of General Cepeda , called to report a discovery and request a technical opinion. Thus began the discovery of Tlatolophus. After assessing the remains, they developed the rescue project for the tail of a hadrosaur, also known as a duck-billed dinosaur.
“In the history of dinosaur paleontology in Mexico, this type of finding had not been reported, or at least not with the number of vertebrae that we had originally glimpsed,” says Felisa. In Giants in the desert we tell you more about his discovery:
Martha Aguillón: Why did the snail turn into stone?
When she was a child, Martha Aguillón liked to play on a hill that looked like a sea monster. In those years I had never heard of dinosaurs. But now, he knows that this hill was shaped like the back of a sauropod.
One day while he was looking for stones, snails and pitayas, the usual thing on his walks on the hill, he came across a petrified snail. “I clearly remember that I came looking for my dad, because he was my hero. He knew everything. I showed him the white snails and the stone one and asked him: ‘What happened here? For what reason do I have this snail and this one is made of stone?’ My dad just shrugged his shoulders,” he recalls.
Martha’s curiosity led her to lean towards the study of living beings. Originally he wanted to study medicine, a very expensive career in those years. So he entered the Normal Superior de Coahuila and specialized in Natural Sciences. Subsequently, he completed a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a master’s degree in Natural Sciences, from the Superior School of the State of Coahuila and a master’s degree in science with a specialty in Vertebrate Paleontology, from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
In the Normal Superior she was able to understand why that snail she saw when she was a girl had become petrified, thanks to the Paleontology subject. The final assignment was to collect 30 fossils per student and that was the beginning of everything. “There came a point where we said: something has to be done with all those fossils . They are very important, it is the history of our state and it is the geological history”.
Thus, together with their classmates, they formed a collection to instruct primary and secondary school teachers about geology, paleontology and the difference with archaeology; and why in Coahuila there are fossils of the sea and vertebrates.
Martha was one of the pioneers in the rescue and investigation of dinosaurs in Coahuila. He participated in the work team for the rescue of Isauria , along with René Hernández Rivera, Luis Espinosa Arrubarrena and Dr. Shelton P. Applegate . After the presentation of these results, he met Dr. Jim Kirkland, who helped him get the scholarship to study paleontology.
The rescue of the Coahuilaceratops magnacuerna came years later, as a result of the “Dinosaurs of the Parras Basin” project, in which an interdisciplinary team made up of 16 researchers from different instances, both from Mexico and the United States and Canada, participated. In Giants in the desert we tell you more about his discovery: