Mark McMenamin

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Mark McMenamin
Born 1957/1958 (age 60–61)[1]
Residence South Hadley, Massachusetts
Citizenship United States
Alma mater University of California, Santa Barbara, Ph.D.
Stanford University, B.S.
Known for Ediacaran fossils; Hypersea theory; Proterozoic supercontinent Rodinia[2]
Spouse(s) Dianna L. Schulte McMenamin
Awards Presidential Young Investigator Award
Sigma Xi National Lecturer
2011 Irish Education 100 Award [2][3]
Scientific career
Fields Paleontology, Geology
Institutions Mount Holyoke College[2]

Mark A. S. McMenamin is an American paleontologist and professor of geology at Mount Holyoke College. He has contributed to the study of the Cambrian explosion and the Ediacaran biota. McMenamin has articulated novel solutions to challenging problems associated with study of the history of life and the history of geographic exploration.[4]

He is the author of several books, most recently Deep Time Analysis (2018) and Dynamic Paleontology (2016). His earlier works include The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the Earliest Complex Life (1998) one of the only popular accounts of research on the Ediacaran biota, and Science 101: Geology (2007). He is credited with co-naming several geological formations in Mexico, describing several new fossil genera and species, and naming the Precambrian supercontinent Rodinia.[5] The Cambrian archeocyathid species Markocyathus clementensis was named in his honor in 1989.[6]

Early life and career[edit]

McMenamin was born in Oregon,[1] earned his B.S. at Stanford University in 1979 and his PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1984.[7] In 1980, while at Santa Barbara he met his future wife, Dianna, also a paleontology graduate student, with whom he would co-author several publications. He joined the staff at Mount Holyoke College in 1984.[8]

Origins of complex life[edit]

In 1995 McMenamin led a field expedition to Sonora, Mexico, that discovered fossils (585 million years old) which McMenamin argued belonged to a diverse community of early animals and Ediacaran biota.[9] The paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America where it was reviewed by Ediacaran expert James G. Gehling. In 2011, McMenamin reported the discovery of the oldest known adult animal fossils, Proterozoic chitons from the Clemente Formation, northwestern Sonora, Mexico.[10] Further up in this same stratigraphic sequence, McMenamin also discovered and named the early shelly fossil Sinotubulites cienegensis, a fossil that allowed the first confident Proterozoic biostratigraphic correlation between Asia and the Americas.[11] In Lower Cambrian strata higher in the stratigraphic sequence, McMenamin also discovered important stem group brachiopods belonging to the genus Mickwitzia.[12] During a Mount Holyoke College field trip to Death Valley, California, McMenamin and his co-authors found evidence indicating that the Proterozoic shelly fossil Qinella survived the Proterozoic-Cambrian boundary.[13]

In 2012 McMenamin proposed that the enigmatic Cambrian trace fossil Paleodictyon was the nest of an unknown animal, a hypothesis which, if supported, may be the earliest fossil evidence of parental behavior, surpassing previous findings by 200 million years.[14]


In an attempt to explain the unprecedented and rapid spread of vegetation over dry land surfaces during the middle Paleozoic, Mark and Dianna McMenamin proposed the Hypersea Theory.[8] Their Hypersea is a geophysiological entity consisting of eukaryotic organisms on land and their symbionts. By means of a process known as hypermarine upwelling, the expansion of Hypersea led to a dramatic increase in global species diversity and a one hundred-fold increase in global biomass.[15][16]

Critique of Neodarwinism[edit]

Mark McMenamin has repeatedly criticized conventional Neodarwinian theory as inadequate to the task of explaining the evolutionary process. Joining with Lynn Margulis and the Russian symbiogeneticists, McMenamin has emphasized the importance of symbiogenesis theory as one means of addressing the gap in our understanding of macroevolutionary change in conventional Neodarwinian terms.[17] In his 1998 book The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the First Complex Life, McMenamin argued that a Teilhardian rather than Neodarwinian approach is far better for trying to understand the evolution of the enigmatic Ediacara biota. In subsequent work, McMenamin emphasized the strength of the Teilhardian approach in comparison to alternate views [18] and has highlighted what he calls the collapse of Neodarwinian theory.[19] McMenamin argues that Neodarwinian gradualism is no mere straw man, but rather continues to influence the work of top paleontologists.[20]

Triassic kraken[edit]

Mark McMenamin and Dianna Schulte McMenamin argued that a formation of multiple ichthyosaur fossils (belonging to the genus Shonisaurus) placed together at Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park may represent evidence of a gigantic cephalopod or Triassic kraken that killed the ichthyosaurs and intentionally arranged their bones in the unusual pattern seen at the site.[21][22]

Opponents have challenged the theory as too far-fetched to be credible.[23][24] PZ Myers believes that a much simpler explanation is that the rows of vertebral discs may be a result of the ichthyosaurs having fallen to one side or the other after death and rotting in that position, while Ryosuke Motani, a paleontologist at the University of California, Davis, has alternately proposed that the bones may have been moved together by ocean currents because of their circular shape.[25] McMenamin has dismissed both of these concerns as not being in accord with either the sequence of bone placement or the hydrodynamics of the site.[26] McMenamin was later quoted as saying: "When you consider that all other explanations for the Ichthyosaur death assemblage have failed, the plausibility goes up. It is currently the leading hypothesis, and none of the critics so far has proposed a fatal or even relatively significant objection." [27]

Mark and Dianna McMenamin presented new evidence favoring the existence of the hypothesized Triassic kraken on October 31, 2013 at the Geological Society of America annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.[28] Commentator David Fastovsky, speaking to the press after the talk, attempted to critique[29] McMenamins' quantitative argument, but Fastovsky neglected to account for the fact that the vertebral array is both hydrodynamically unstable and could not have formed by passive collapse of a vertebral column because the vertebrae are out of order. McMenamin's probabilistic calculations assume currents strong enough to displace individual vertebrae, but the main argument holds even if no currents were present. Adolf Seilacher has noted that this ichthyosaur bone arrangement "has never been observed at other localities".[30]


Film and television
Year Title Role Notes
2006 Naked Science--Colliding Continents Miscellaneous Crew, Himself National Geographic
2007 How the Earth Was Made Himself History Channel
2013 America Unearthed Himself Committee Films TV Documentary


  • McMenamin, Mark A. S.; McMenamin, Dianna Schulte. (Jan 1990). The Emergence of Animals: The Cambrian Breakthrough. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06646-5. 
  • McMenamin, Mark A. S.; McMenamin, Dianna Schulte (1994). Hypersea: Life on the Land. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-07530-8. 
  • McMenamin, Mark A. S. (1996). Carthaginian Cartography: A Stylized Exergue Map. Meanma Press. ISBN 0-9651136-1-2. 
  • McMenamin, Mark A. S. (1998). The Garden of Ediacara: Discovering the Earliest Complex Life. Columbia University Press. 
  • McMenamin, Mark A. S. (Jun 2007). Science 101: Geology. Science 101. Collins. ISBN 0-06-089136-X. 
  • McMenamin, Mark A. S. (2009). Paleotorus: The Laws of Morphogenetic Evolution. Meanma Press. ISBN 978-1-893882-18-8. 
  • McMenamin, Mark A. S. (2016). Dynamic Paleontology: Using Quantification and Other Tools to Decipher the History of Life. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-22776-4. 
  • McMenamin, Mark A. S. (2018). Deep Time Analysis: A Coherent View of the History of Life. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-74255-7. 


  1. ^ a b Macone, Steve (June 3, 2007). "Out there". The Boston Globe. 
  2. ^ a b c "Mark McMenamin Faculty Profile". Mount Holyoke College. Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  3. ^ McGoldrick, Debbie, ed. (2011). "Mark McMenamin". The Irish Voice Third Annual Irish Education 100 Special Supplement: S38. 
  4. ^ Moreno, Javier (October 18, 2011). "De Ediacara a Cartago (entrevista a Mark McMenamin)". La nueva Ilustración Evolucionista / The new Evolutionary Enlightenment. Retrieved 2012-01-20. [self-published source]
  5. ^ Meert, J. G.; Powell, C. M. (2001). "Assembly and breakup of Rodinia". Precambrian Research. 110: 1–8. Bibcode:2001PreR..110....1M. doi:10.1016/s0301-9268(01)00177-2. 
  6. ^ Debrenne, F.; Gandin, A.; Rowland, S. M. (1989). "Lower Cambrian bioconstructions in Northwest Mexico (Sonora). Depositional setting, paleoecology and systematics of archaeocyaths". Geobios. 22: 137–195. doi:10.1016/s0016-6995(89)80127-5. 
  7. ^ "Mark McMenamin Professor of Geology". Mount Holyoke College Geology Department. Retrieved 2015-02-04. 
  8. ^ a b Zimmer, Carl (October 1995). "Hypersea Invasion". Discover Magazine. 
  9. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (1996). "Ediacaran biota from Sonora, Mexico". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 93: 4990–4993. Bibcode:1996PNAS...93.4990M. doi:10.1073/pnas.93.10.4990. PMC 39393Freely accessible. PMID 11607679. 
  10. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (2011). "Fossil chitons and Monomorphichnus from the Ediacaran Clemente Formation, Sonora, Mexico". Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. 43 (5): 87. 
  11. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (1985). "Basal Cambrian small shelly fossils from the La Ciénega Formation, northwestern Sonora, Mexico". Journal of Paleontology. 59 (6): 1414–1425. 
  12. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (1992). "Two new species of the Cambrian genus Mickwitzia". Journal of Paleontology. 66 (2): 173–182. 
  13. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S.; Hughes, W. A.; McMenamin, J. M. (2013). "Surviving the Cambrian Explosion: Qinella from Death Valley, California". Geological Society of America Abstracts with Program. 45 (7): 112. 
  14. ^ Barras, Colin (16 November 2012). "Leonardo fossil sketch may depict early nests". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2012.11841. 
  15. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S.; McMenamin, D. L. S. (1993). "Hypersea and the land ecosystem". BioSystems. 31: 145–153. doi:10.1016/0303-2647(93)90043-c. 
  16. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S.; McMenamin, D. L. S. (1994). Hypersea: Life on the Land. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-07530-8. 
  17. ^ Margulis, L.; McMenamin, M. A. S. (1990). "Kinetosome-centriolar DNA: Significance for endosymbiosis theory". Treballs de la Societat Catalana de Biologia. 41: 5–16. 
  18. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (2011). "Teilhard de Chardin's Legacy in Science". In Salmon, J.; Farina, J. The Legacy of Teilhard de Chardin. Paulist Press, Mahwaw, New Jersey. pp. 33–45. 
  19. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (2009). Paleotorus: The Laws of Morphogenetic Evolution. Meanma Press, South Hadley, Massachusetts. ISBN 978-1-893882-18-8. 
  20. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (2013). "Breakthrough on the Cambrian Explosion". BioScience. 63 (10): 834–835. doi:10.1525/bio.2013.63.10.14. 
  21. ^ McMenamin, Mark A. S.; McMenamin, Dianna Schulte (Oct 2011). "Triassic Kraken: The Berlin Ichthyosaur Death Assemblage Interpreted as a Giant Cephalopod Midden". Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. 43 (5): 310. 
  22. ^ "Psycho kraken made portraits from bones of prehistoric whale victims. Maybe..." Herald Sun. The Herald and Weekly Times. October 12, 2011. 
  23. ^ Simpson, Sarah (October 11, 2011). "Smokin' Kraken?". Discovery News. Discovery Channel. Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  24. ^ "Mythical Kraken-Like Sea Monster Might be Real: Researcher". International Business Times. The International Business Times Inc. October 12, 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-12. 
  25. ^ Than, Ker (October 11, 2011). "Kraken Sea Monster Account "Bizarre and Miraculous"". National Geographic News. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 2011-10-12. 
  26. ^ Flatow, Ira (October 14, 2011). "Seeing a Cephalopod in Ancient Bones". NPR Stories. National Public Radio. Retrieved 2011-10-18. 
  27. ^ Duhaime-Ross, Arielle (November 3, 2011). "Scientifically Inclined: The haunting Triassic Kraken hypothesis". The Ontarion. University of Guelph. Retrieved 2011-12-21. 
  28. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S.; McMenamin, Dianna Schulte (2013). "The Kraken's back: New evidence regarding possible cephalopod arrangement of ichthyosaur skeletons". Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. 43 (5): 87. 
  29. ^ Pappas, Stephanie (October 31, 2013). "The kraken rises! New fossil evidence revives sea monster debate". NBC News Science. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  30. ^ McMenamin, M. A. S. (2012). "Evidence for a Triassic Kraken: Unusual arrangement of bones at Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada". 21st Century Science and Technology. 24 (4): 55–58. 

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