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About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2018 Awardees 2018 (Skinner Award) Oscar Carranza-Castañeda


Oscar Carranza-Castañeda was born in Mexico City, where he grew and attended public schools. When he was finishing high school, he attended a talk on the origin of life given by one of his professors.  He then decided to study biology. He got his bachelor's degree from Mexico's National University (UNAM). During his youth and early adulthood he was a passionate player of frontenis and basque pelota. Oscar's first contact with paleontology was when he received a scholarship from UNAM to work as RA at the Instituto de Geología. He obtained his doctorate (biology) at UNAM; his thesis topic was the biostratigraphy of the San Miguel de Allende Basin (SMAB), a remarkable Hemphillian-Blancan fossil locality in Mexico where Oscar still collects fossils that keep adding new information about Mexico’s late Cenozoic faunas and on the GABI. UNAM did not have a program in paleontology when Oscar attended school. He learned in the field to prospect and the technics to collect vertebrate fossils under the supervision of Harley J. Garbani, who was a close friend and collaborator with Oscar until he died. From 1974 to 2000 Harley went to Mexico several times a year to work with Oscar. Harley used to say, as a joke, that he had two bosses: Bill Clemens (UC, Berkeley) and Oscar. In 1984 Oscar participated in a field season with Everett Lindsay in Yepómera. During that season Oscar met Larry Marshall who became a great influence in his development as a paleontologist. Larry oriented and encouraged him to write his first grant application from National Geographic Society. Larry make him realize the great importance of his work in SMAB, a site where Oscar had collected fossils of 3.6 Ma South American immigrants. In addition to this, the SMAB sequence is one of the most continuous sedimentary successions across the Hemphillian-Blancan boundary. 
 
For a long time, Oscar worked with scholars from Brigham Young University.  For nearly 20 years they prospected and collected vertebrate fossils in many sites in Mexico. It is fair to say that Oscar participated in the discovery and study of all the important Hemphillian-Blancan fossil localities known in Mexico during the past 40 years.  In recent years every time he works in the field, Oscar is with his wife Hilda, who was one of his classmates during his bachelor's studies. After 50 years they are still together and travel nearly 80 km every day from their house at SMAB to Querétaro. While Oscar is occupied in his research projects, Hilda prepares the fossils they have collected. 
 
Oscar is a tireless traveler and each year works in several widely scattered localities throughout Mexico. In the past 50 years Oscar has personally collected nearly 20,000 fossils, which are deposited at UNAM. He proudly says that each one of these fossils is clearly tied to geographic location and to a well-established stratigraphic context; he has never incorporated to his collection fossils bought from peasants or donated by rockhounds as they cannot be tied to their geologic context.