Weidenreich, Franz

views updated


(b. Edenkoben, Germany, 7 June 1873;

d. New York, New York, 11 June 1948), human anatomy, paleoanthropology, human evolution, physical anthropology, histology.

Weidenreich discovered and described the initial finds of Sinanthropus, now classified as Homo erectus. He went to China in the midthirties and resumed the work of Davidson Black at Zhoukoudian. Because the Sinanthropus originals disappeared during World War II, Weidenreich’s descriptions and the casts prepared under his advice provide the only traces left of these famous hominid fossils. Prior to the stay in China, Weidenreich studied histology and comparative anatomy of primates at several German universities, among them Strasbourg, Heidelberg, and Frankfurt am Main.

Early Career as Histologist in Strasbourg. Franz Weiden-reich was born the youngest of four children in Edenkoben in the Palatinate. In 1893 he began to study medicine at universities in Munich, Kiel, Berlin, and Strasbourg. In his early career, Weidenreich was interested primarily in cell and tissue biology, in histology. Weiden-reich completed his studies in Strasbourg under the direction of Gustav Schwalbe. When Weidenreich arrived in Strasbourg, Schwalbe was studying the Neanderthal skeleton. This first fossil encounter did not, however, lead Weidenreich to change his subject of study. In his doctoral thesis in 1899 he described the anatomy of central nuclei in the mammalian cerebellum. In July 1901 he habilitated with a thesis on the vascular system of the human spleen. After a brief stay at Paul Ehrlich’s institute of experimental therapy in Frankfurt am Main he returned to Strasbourg where he was finally appointed as associate professor of anatomy in 1902. While his research interests focused on the cellular composition of blood, a list of his classes reveals a wider scope of interests. Besides histology and cellular correlates of the immune system, he taught classes in developmental biology, comparative anatomy, anthropology, the locomotor system, and the peripheral nervous system. Due to his passion for the composition of the blood and the structure of blood cells he was labeled with the nickname “bloody Weidenreich.”

Although his professional interests focused in histo-logical studies of the blood, he occasionally touched problems of the morphology of the human skeleton. In 1904 he entered into a dispute with the physicist Otto Walkhoff on the interpretation of x-ray scans of the human chin— then a brand-new technique.

A decade later Weidenreich published the results of another study in human anatomy. He had investigated the anatomy of the human pelvis and its relation to an upright posture. In this study Weidenreich was able to demonstrate that the human pelvis compared to that of apes underwent specific transformations. The geometry and arrangement of pelvic elements had changed corresponding to the increased load in upright posture. Simultaneously muscular attachments controlling the posture in the hip joint and the movement of the legs had changed. In order to fully understand the structure of the human pelvis, it was therefore necessary to relate the locomotory apparatus with functional requirements. There is thus a particular and close relation between form and function of the skeleton and its elements. In order to explain the structure of skeletal elements, it is necessary to determine their functions, if possible, on a mechanical basis. Weidenreich considered comparative anatomy to be an important method in this context. Comparing the pelvis of apes and monkeys with that of humans reveals the structural changes developing in response to the specific mode of locomotion.

The years he spent in Strasbourg were the quietest ones in Weidenreich’s life. In 1904 he married Mathilde Neuberger and three daughters were born to them. The quiet years ended in 1914 with the political catastrophe of World War I and a severe interruption in Weidenreich’s academic career. Weidenreich had been a member of the Democratic Party in Alsace-Lorraine for which he held a seat in the Strasbourg parliament. When war broke out he focused on his political duties. His decision resulted in a six-year gap in his publications between 1915 and 1921.

Back to the Lectern at Heidelberg. Upon the end of the war the territory of Alsace-Lorraine fell to France. Weidenreich and his family were forced to leave Strasbourg early in 1919. He went to Heidelberg and started teaching anatomy classes for hospital staff. In winter 1919 he endeavored to refresh his biological knowledge and visited classes in zoology and botany at Heidelberg University, and in winter 1921 he was appointed professor of anatomy on the medical faculty at Heidelberg.

After a six-year gap he published two substantial papers, on which he must have been working for a longer period due to their sheer length. He devoted two hundred pages to an anatomical description and comparative study of the structure of the human foot. The other paper was a study of general problems of evolutionary theory. Weiden-reich reorganized his research focus and addressed general problems in evolutionary theory, the comparative anatomy of the skeleton as well as the growth and development of osseous and dental tissues. He dropped the histological studies of blood components that made up a major part of his work prior to the first world war. In his studies of the human skeleton he focused on changes correlated with an upright posture and a bipedal mode of locomotion. Following his initial studies of the pelvis and foot he turned to structural transformations of the human skull. These studies culminated fifteen years later in the publication of his widely acknowledged paper on the brain and its role in the phylogenetic transformation of the human skull.

Weidenreich regarded skeletal transformations as a response to specific functional requirements, themselves being determined by a specific mode of usage. Initially, the skeletons of apes and humans were quite similar, but in the course of their evolutionary history their respective structures had been adjusted to specific modes of locomotion. In the case of humans, this transformation can be observed regularly in individual development. Young children are crouching at first, before they learn to walk upright. Pathologies preventing a normal use of the skeleton do not allow characteristic transformations. The function of walking upright thus represents in some sense a stimulus that calls forth specific reactions by the organism, leading to the production of adjusted structures. Of course, organisms are not completely independent in the selection of the responses stimuli. They do not produce arbitrary structures, but reproduce an inherited type. However, depending on individually different factors imposed during individual growth and development, the general form is adjusted corresponding to individual requirements. In his paper on evolutionary theory in 1921, he tried to introduce the illustrated stimulus-response relationship into an evolutionary context. He took a stand in a debate raging in the early twenties on the mechanisms of evolution.

Weidenreich’s professorship at Heidelberg University turned out to be rather ephemeral. Already in 1924 the institute for cancer research at the medical faculty was closed and Weidenreich was forced to retire at the age of fifty-two. However, he was able to continue his studies. The Portheim Foundation at Mannheim took over parts of the institute and appointed Weidenreich as head of the biomechanics laboratory. Weidenreich realized that his studies of the human skeleton and his conclusions about anatomical changes in evolution might contribute to the interpretation of human fossils. He was asked to provide the anatomic description and morphological reconstruction of a skull found in September 1925 in a quarry in the suburbs of Weimar. Weidenreich published the full description in a monograph in 1928, covering in separate papers also the geological and archaeological context of the find. This careful study was Weidenreich’s ticket to paleoanthropology.

Human Variability and Human Races. Meanwhile, events on the public stage demanded Weidenreich’s attention. Human variability had been put on the agenda by the National Socialist Party (NSDAP, or Nazis) from 1924 onward. By then the NSDAP gained growing influence on public opinion. The Nazi party supported biological race ideology and anti-Semitism. Weidenreich, who was of Jewish descent, recognized a threat in the political rise of the Nazi party and the increasing public presence of its supporters, which he intended to counter by the means available to him as a scientist. As an anatomist he was bothered by the irrational up- and downgrading of certain races, promulgated by the National Socialists.

He thus started to study race concepts from a scientific perspective. In evolution, races were thought to represent one of several sources of variation among humans. According to Weidenreich’s approach races can be regarded as evolutionarily relevant only if they correspond to individual and functional differentiations. These differentiations should be related to geographic distribution. Besides, the term race was scientifically discredited by its political instrumentalization.

Weidenreich explored the advantages and disadvantages of race concepts in a book Rasse und Körperbau (Race and constitution) published in 1927. Already in its initial pages he discarded the use of the term race in a scientific context, instead proposing to make use of the medical concept of constitution. The present use of this term in medicine was too restricted though. Constitution concepts were mainly used to characterize pathologies occurring in correspondence with a certain constitutional type, for example, in the sense of a weak constitution making its bearer susceptible to particular diseases. Weidenreich proposed to extend its meaning beyond the restrictions of pathological phenomena, thereby including other sources of individual variability such as functional, developmental, or even geographical factors. His concept delimited two extreme constitutional types and included a continuum of forms linking the extremes.

With this book he attracted the attention of the rector of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Fritz Ernst Drevermann. Drevermann had decided to widen the scope of disciplines taught at Frankfurt University by including physical anthropology. Weidenreich accepted the chair at Frankfurt University and started teaching classes in winter 1928. The facilities of the newly installed professorship were not luxurious, however. It was, for instance, difficult to find adequate space in the university’s compound. Drevermann, by then also director of the nearby Forschungsinstitut und Natur-Museum Senckenberg (Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum), housed Weidenreich’s new institute there. A glance at Weidenreich’s publication list reveals that he did not restrict himself to academic teaching duties. He made use of the opportunities offered to him at Senckenberg and prepared an exhibition on human evolution at the museum. He started to publish for regional newspapers and for the magazine of the Senckenberg Research

Society. Weidenreich continued to study fossil hominids, in particular the Broken Hill skull, the australopithecine fossils discovered in South Africa and—in close detail— the new Sinanthropus fossils from Zhoukoudian in China. Chinese paleontologists Yang Zhongjian and Weng Wenhao sent casts to Senckenberg; among them was a cast of the skull found in Zhoukoudian in 1929.

Chicago Interlude. Weidenreich was not allowed to stay at Frankfurt University for long. After five brief years he was forced to leave the university in 1933. Already at the beginning of the year, an association of National Socialist lecturers prepared reports on unwanted colleagues. Weidenreich did not make friends among them by his discussion of race concepts. The new rector at Frankfurt University reshaped the university according to National Socialist principles. Following the Nazi takeover in April professors and lecturers of non-Aryan descent were subsequently dismissed. Weidenreich was forced to go on unpaid leave in 1934. But fortunately he was offered a guest professorship at the University of Chicago. Banned from his job and any opportunity to work, Weidenreich accepted and went to Chicago later that year. In the United States he met a scientific community that was openly organized. Nevertheless, he had to struggle with a new language at the age of sixty-five. The professorship at Chicago was moreover limited to nine months.

By mid-1934 he was approached by colleagues asking him to apply for the chair held by Canadian anatomist Davidson Black at Beijing. Black, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1934, held a professorship of anatomy at the Peiping Union Medical College (PUMC) in Beijing, an institution operated by the American Rockefeller Foundation. Weidenreich, who had already become interested in the Sinanthropus fossils while at Frankfurt, accepted immediately. By the end of 1934 Weidenreich returned to Germany to await the decision from the Rockefeller Foundation, which arrived soon after.

Describing Sinanthropus. Early in 1935 Weidenreich traveled to Beijing, where he arrived in April. Weiden-reich was now professor of anatomy at the PUMC. The PUMC was meant to represent a center of cultural exchange. The Cenozoic Research Laboratory, to which Weidenreich was appointed as one of the directors, coordinated research at Zhoukoudian.

Franz Weidenreich initially had to cope with practical difficulties. He could neither speak nor read or write Chinese. Moreover his knowledge of English was also quite limited. Until he moved to Beijing he had published only a single paper in English, a summary of his publication on the human foot from 1921. Now he needed to adapt, and he would not have succeeded without the support of his secretary, Olga Hempel-Gowen. Olga Gowen had been born and raised in China and was fluent in English and Chinese. She translated his manuscripts and corrected them, so that Weidenreich was able to publish predominantly in English from 1935 onward.

Fossil remains of Peking Man, or Sinanthropus, had been discovered at Zhoukoudian since 1921. The site was exceptionally prolific. Unlike other hominid sites, Zhoukoudian provided a large number of individuals. It was thus possible to study the variability among a Sinanthropus population, instead of dealing with more or less artificial compositions of single fragments. Franz Weidenreich started with detailed descriptions of the finds already made by Davidson Black and published in rapid succession a general overview of the finds (1935), a study of the endocranial casts and a reconstruction of the mandible (both in 1936).

He left the direction of the excavations to the able hands of paleontologist Pei Wenzhong and the young geologist Jia Lanpo, who were involved in the excavations already since the beginning of the thirties. In November 1936 their enduring efforts were rewarded with the unearthing of three Sinanthropus skulls within eleven days. The finds permitted a complete reconstruction of the Sinanthropus skull. In addition, Weidenreich provided a study of Sinanthropus teeth and dentition in 1937. In 1936 fragments of limb bones were also found. It was thus possible to reconstruct the figure and posture of Sinanthropus.

Japanese troops put a sudden end to the excavations at Zhoukoudian when late in 1937 three workers were shot at the site. Under these circumstances it was impossible to continue with the excavations. When it became evident that the excavations could not be resumed in 1938, Weidenreich accepted an invitation to an anthropological congress in Denmark. He took the opportunity to visit friends and colleagues in the United States and a number of other European countries. He left in March 1938 for the United States and introduced the Sinanthropus fossils and reconstructions at numerous American universities, research institutes, and scientific societies. On the basis of his descriptions and detailed comparisons he was able to draw inferences about human evolution. Weidenreich used the Zhoukoudian hominids as empirical evidence for his concepts on human evolution developed earlier. In the first days of August, Weidenreich presented the fossils and reconstructions at the congress in Copenhagen. He then proceeded to the Netherlands, visiting the discoverer of the first fossils of Pithecanthropus in Java, Eugène Dubois.

Dubois had carried out excavations in the last decade of the nineteenth century and discovered hominid fossils at Trinil and Kedung Brubus. More Pleistocene hominids were excavated in Java after 1936, in particular by the young geologist Ralph von Koenigswald. Initially having been delighted by these new finds, Dubois started to doubt their value.

Weidenreich, knowing about von Koenigswald’s discoveries, was determined to form his own picture of the fossils. He studied Dubois’s finds and headed on to Bandung in Java, where he met with von Koenigswald in September. He inspected von Koenigswald’s finds and identified another Pithecanthropus fragment from Sangiran, which he found in a basket containing fossils from Sangiran. Weidenreich and von Koenigswald announced the new find in a joint publication.

They decided that von Koenigswald should come to Beijing as soon as possible in order to compare Sinanthropus and Pithecanthropus. In February 1939 von Koenigswald arrived in Beijing, bringing along another surprise from Sangiran, a fossil maxilla, which was soon followed by a package with further cranial fragments belonging to the same individual. Weidenreich and von Koenigswald announced the new discovery and provided careful comparisons between Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus. Before Weidenreich left Beijing in the first days of April for the United States, they completed a paper introducing the results of their comparisons. The comparison led the researchers to conclude that Sinanthropus and Pithecanthropus represent geographical variants of hominids at a similar stage of evolution. Weidenreich took the casts of the specimens from Java along to the United States. He reconstructed the cranial vault of Sangiran 4 from the seven fragments that had initially been collected. In the course of this reconstruction he studied while in the United States the morphological relations and the growth conditions of the human skull. Resuming his studies from 1924 he published a monograph in 1941 on the transformations of the human skull in evolution.

In this paper Weidenreich developed two important conclusions on human evolution. According to the comparisons executed at Beijing, Sinanthropus and Pithecanthropus represented two geographically different forms of hominid at the same evolutionary stage. Since there are modern humans in both areas and since modern humans differ in a corresponding way from each other as the Pleistocene fossils do, this indicates a continuous evolutionary process going on from the Pleistocene until the present running in parallel in China as well as in Java. The development of Pithecanthropus and Sinanthropus followed a parallel track. An underlying general evolutionary trend thus seems to lead to corresponding results, even in case the actual steps in evolution happen in geographically different places. Such a model is called polycentric, because corresponding evolutionary stages are independently passed in different places. Weidenreich’s theory of polycentric evolution is rooted in this observation. At that point Weidenreich merely suggested an interpretation of the observed parallelism. It was not before 1946 in his book on Apes, Giants, And Man, where he introduced his well-known network chart on human evolution, that he offered a mechanism for his earlier observations. Vertical connections in this graphical depiction indicate ancestry, horizontal lines represent distribution and specialization, and diagonal lines finally suggest interchange. Later, the rather general expression interchange was replaced by crossing or cross breeding.

Furthermore, Pleistocene and modern humans characteristically differ in some respects, first of all in size and robusticity. The proportion of the skull also differs. Compared with modern humans the cranial capacity of Pleistocene humans is generally smaller, the skull is not as highly vaulted, and the teeth and jaw are comparatively large. These characteristic changes in the organization of the skull correspond to those occurring in dwarf forms of dogs. The modern human skull may thus be regarded as the pygmy form of a larger Pleistocene human. Earlier forms thus must have been robust giants. Based on this idea Weidenreich later developed the concept of giants as human ancestors.

After spending a year in the United States as required for naturalization, Weidenreich returned to Beijing in August 1940. The political situation still did not allow excavations to resume at Zhoukoudian. In fact it got even worse, so that the Rockefeller Foundation decided in spring 1941 to close their facilities in China and bring all foreign scientists to the United States. In April 1941, only eight months after his return, Weidenreich was urged to leave Beijing again and return to the American Museum of Natural History at New York.

Concluding Six Eventful Years. Weidenreich was unable to take the precious Sinanthropus fossils along, but a concerted effort was made to protect the hominid fossils and if possible to bring them out of the country. The fossil collection was packed in boxes in order to transport them to the United States. However, somewhere along the route from Beijing to the coast the fossils were lost. Since then the original fossils of Sinanthropus and other treasures from Zhoukoudian have been lost—a terrible and irretrievable loss.

Weidenreich continued his studies on the skull of Sinanthropus with the casts he brought along to America and published his results in 1943. Meanwhile, he also lost contact with von Koenigswald in Java. The fate of the Zhoukoudian hominids raised similar apprehensions about von Koenigswald himself and his precious collections. In 1941 Weidenreich received casts from the fossils von Koenigswald found after they met in Beijing, but no one knew whether von Koenigswald was still alive. Facing this desperate situation Weidenreich decided to describe the fossils not yet published by von Koenigswald on the basis of the casts at his disposal. Weidenreich provided an anatomical interpretation of the finds and fitted them into his evolutionary scheme. Shortly before the publication von Koenigswald reemerged on the scene to Weidenreich’s delight and pleasure. Von Koenigswald had survived the war in a prison camp.

The anatomical descriptions provided by Weiden-reich were welcome, although von Koenigswald did not agree with all the details of Weidenreich’s systematic and evolutionary conclusions. Later, he corrected Weidenreich’s taxonomic attributions. Von Koenigswald brought along the whole collection of Javanese hominids, including the specimens from Ngandong. Although they had been found fifteen years earlier, the specimens had not yet been carefully described so Weidenreich immediately started working on the fossils. According to Weidenreich the hominid finds from Ngandong represented the Neanderthal stage in human evolution. Weidenreich did not manage to complete more than the bare anatomical description. He died 11 June 1948, a few days after his seventy-fifth birthday in New York. Death overtook him in the midst of his work, and something else is hard to imagine for such an agile and vivid personality.



“Der Menschenfuss.” Zeitschrift für Morphologie und Anthropologie 22 (1921): 51–282. Weidenreich’s exhaustive study on the comparative anatomy of the primate foot.

“Das Evolutionsproblem und der individuelle Gestaltungsanteil am Entwicklungsgeschehen.” Roux’ Vorträge und Aufsätze über Entwicklungsmechanik der Organismen 27 (1921): 1–120. Weidenreich’s key paper on his ideas on evolution.

“Evolution of the Human Foot.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 6 (1923): 1–10. English summary of “Der Menschenfuss.”

Rasse und Körperbau. Berlin: Springer, 1927. Introducing the concept of constitution.

Der Schädelfund von Weimar-Ehringsdorf. Jena, Germany: Fischer, 1928. Weidenreich’s first fossil description.

“The Sinanthropus Population of Choukoutien (Locality 1) with a Preliminary Report on New Discoveries.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of China B 14 (1935): 427–461.

“Observations on the Form and Proportions of the Endocranial Casts of Sinanthropus Pekinensis, Other Hominids and the Great Apes: A Comparative Study of Brain Size.” Palaeontologia Sinica, Series D, 3 (1936): 1–50.

“The Mandibles of Sinanthropus pekinensis: A Comparative Study.” Palaeontologia Sinica, Series D, 7. (1936): 1–162.

“The Dentition of Sinanthropus pekinensis: A Comparative Odontography of the Hominids.” 2 Palaeontologia Sinica, n.s. D, no. 1 (1937).

“The Brain and Its Role in the Phylogenetic Transformation of the Human Skull.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 31 (1941): 321–442.

Apes, Giants and Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946.

The Shorter Anthropological Papers of Franz Weidenreich Published in the Period 1939–1948: A Memorial Volume. Edited by Sherwood Larned Washburn and Davida Wolffson. New York: Viking Fund, 1949. Includes a complete bibliography of Weidenreich.


Gregory, William K. “Franz Weidenreich, 1873–1948.” American Anthropologist 51 (1948): 85–90.

Jia Lanpo and Huang Weiwen. The Story of Peking Man: From Archaeology to Mystery. Translated by Yin Zhiqi. Hong Kong: Foreign Languages Press, 1990. Historical account of the excavations at Zhoukoudian site.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. “Franz Weidenreich.” L’Anthropologie 52 (1948): 328–330.

Wolpoff, Milford, and Rachel Caspari. Race and Human Evolution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997. Contains a reconstruction of Weidenreich’s views on human variability and evolution.

Christine Hertler

Weidenreich, Franz

views updated

Weidenreich, Franz


Franz Weidenreich (1873-1948), anatomist and anthropologist, was born in Germany. After attending the Gymnasium in Landau, he spent six years studying medicine in Munich, Kiel, Berlin, and in Strasbourg, where he received his m.d. in 1899. He taught anatomy at the universities of Strasbourg and Frankfurt and in 1904 was appointed professor of anatomy at Strasbourg. By 1914 he had published 54 papers, mostly concerned with blood. He was interested in bone and connective tissue, and his anthropological interests commenced with a paper on the chin (1904) and with one on upright posture (1913). Not only did World War i interrupt Weidenreich’s work but it resulted in his dismissal as professor of anatomy when the French took over Strasbourg. In 1921 Weidenreich became professor of anatomy at Heidelberg. His interest in blood continued, but his interest in bone and evolution became much more pronounced. His publications on the foot, the skull, domestication, and race foreshadowed the basic thinking of all his later work. In 1928 he described the Ehringsdorf skull, and in the same year he moved to the University of Frankfurt. There he continued to publish work on blood, bone, teeth, and connective tissue; in addition, he wrote papers on fossil man and on the evolution of the hand and the foot.

His Jewish family background and his work on race brought Weidenreich into conflict with the German authorities; after leaving Germany, he went to the University of Chicago as a visiting professor in 1934. In 1935 he became professor of anatomy at Peking Union Medical College and honorary director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory. There he prepared a series of monographs on Peking man, including works on the mandibles (1936a), dentition (1937), extremity bones (1941), and the skull (1943). In 1941 Weidenreich moved again, and he spent his final years at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. During his last ten years Weidenreich’s numerous papers dealt exclusively with human evolution, but they were enriched by the profound anatomical understanding that he had derived from his earlier work.

Although the original specimens of Peking man were lost during World War ii, comparable Pithecanthropus erectus fossils became available for study. The Dutch paleontologist G. H. R. von Koenigswald had survived his experiences in a Japanese prison camp and, with the financial assistance of the Viking Fund, had gone to New York, taking original specimens of Pithecanthropus from Java. Many of Weidenreich’s last writings, especially the monograph “Giant Early Man” (1945a), were concerned with the specimens found by von Koenigswald.

Weidenreich summarized his views on human evolution in six lectures, later published as the book Apes, Giants and Man (1946), and in a review article, “The Trend of Human Evolution” (1947a). He believed that human evolution was fundamentally orthogenetic in character. The principal trends that changed an ancestral ape to man were interconnected and consisted of bipedalism, increase in brain size and decrease in face size, and decrease in massiveness in the final giant man, ancient man, modern man series. Weidenreich, like most east European and German paleoanatomists, never accepted Piltdown man, maintaining that the lower jaw was that of an ape. Nor did he ever accept early Pleistocene Homo sapiens, and he believed that mankind comprised only one species from before the time of Java man. Although he saw continuity of structural differences in each of the major geographical areas of the Old World, he believed that there had been genetic connections among all the areas throughout the Pleistocene period (1946); contrary to the misrepresentations of his views on the origin of races, he never proposed a multilineal sequence of human evolution.

Weidenreich’s fossil descriptions remain unequaled. His general chronological arrangement of their forms still appears to be essentially correct, although recent discoveries of jaws show Gigantopithecus to be an ape and not, as Weidenreich had suspected, an early man.

Probably no other person contributed more to the study of human evolution than did Weidenreich. In spite of persecution, the loss of two positions for political reasons, and great personal difficulties, he remained a helpful, friendly person. He welcomed colleagues and students who wanted to see the fossils and his still unpublished material. “Pick it up,” he would say, “it’s the original!” In the few years he was in the United States Weidenreich exerted a profound influence, which went far beyond his scientific opinions and his many useful papers.

S. L. Washburn

[See alsoEvolution, article on Human Evolution; Physical Anthropology.]


1904 Zur Kinnbildung beim Menschen. Anatomischer Anzeiger 25:314-319.

1913 Über das Hüftbein und das Becken der Primaten und ihre Umformung durch den aufrechten Gang. Anatomischer Anzeiger 44:397-513.

1928 Der Schädelfund von Weimar-Ehringsdorf. Jena (Germany): Fischer.

1936a The Mandibles of Sinanthropus pekinensis: A Comparative Study. Palaeontologica sinica Series D 7, fasc. 3.

1936b Observations on the Form and Proportions of the Endocranial Casts of Sinanthropus pekinensis, Other Hominids and Great Apes: A Comparative Study of Brain Size. Palaeontologica sinica Series D 7, fasc. 4.

1937 The Dentition of Sinanthropus pekinensis: A Comparative Odontography of the Hominids. Palaeontologica sinica New Series D no. 1, whole series no. 101.

1941 The Extremity Bones of Sinanthropus pekinensis. Palaeontologica sinica New Series D no. 5; whole series no. 116.

1943 The Skull of Sinanthropus pekinensis: A Comparative Study on a Primitive Hominid Skull. Palaeontologica sinica New Series D no. 10; whole series no. 127.

1945a Giant Early Man From Java and South China. Volume 40, part 1 in American Museum of Natural History, Anthropological Papers. New York: The Museum.

1945b The Brachycephalization of Recent Mankind. Southwest Journal of Anthropology 1:1-54.

1946 Apes, Giants and Man. Univ. of Chicago Press.

1947a The Trend of Human Evolution. Evolution 1:221-236.

1947b Facts and Speculations Concerning the Origin of Homo sapiens. American Anthropologist New Series 49:187-203.

The Shorter Anthropological Papers of Franz Weidenreich Published in the Period 1939-1948: A Memorial Volume. Compiled by S. L. Washburn and Davida Wolffson. New York: Viking Fund, 1949.

Franz Weidenreich

views updated

Franz Weidenreich

The German anatomist and physical anthropologist Franz Weidenreich (1873-1948) made outstanding contributions in the areas of hematology and human evolution.

Franz Weidenreich the son of a merchant, was born on June 7, 1873, in Edenkoben in the Bavarian Palatinate. He studied medicine and biology for 6 years at the universities of Munich, Kiel, Berlin, and Strassburg, from the last of which he received a medical degree in 1899. After graduation he worked with Gustav Schwalbe at Strassburg and Paul Ehrlich at Frankfurt am Main. In 1904 he was appointed professor of anatomy at the University of Frankfurt. During his earlier academic life Weidenreich carried on researches chiefly in the field of hematology, and by 1914 he had published nearly 50 papers relating to that subject.

World War I brought an interruption to Weidenreich's academic career. Following the French occupation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1918, he lost his post at the University of Strassburg, and it was not until 1921, when he became professor of anatomy at the University of Heidelberg, that he returned to academic life. From that time on, his studies dealt chiefly with the skeleton, especially with its relation to human evolution, resulting in nearly 100 publications.

In 1935 Weidenreich was appointed visiting professor of anatomy at Peking Union Medical College and honorary director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory, Geological Survey of China. For the next 7 years he was engaged, together with Chinese colleagues and Father Teilhard de Chardin, in excavating and studying the fossil remains of Peking man, Sinanthropus pekinensis (Homo erectus pekinensis). This produced a series of famous papers and monographs by Weidenreich that are of truly unsurpassed excellence in the field of paleoanthropology. The original remains of Peking man mysteriously disappeared with the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. Notwithstanding, Weidenreich's superb casts and detailed descriptions of these important fossils have made the loss relatively unimportant.

In 1937 Weidenreich made a trip to java to visit the sites where Pithecanthropus erectus (Homo erectus erectus) and other human fossils had been discovered by G.H.R. von Koenigswald. They collaborated in producing several papers on fossil man.

In 1941 Weidenreich left China for the United States. For the remainder of his life this man of friendly and engaging personality was an honored guest of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he continued his studies of fossil man and other aspects of human evolution. Despite the soundness of his researches, some of his interpretations of the fossil evidence provoked wide discussion. He concluded, for example, that the immediate ancestors of man were giants, a theory that has been generally rejected.

Weidenreich was president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1944-1945 and was the first recipient of the Viking Fund Medal and Award in Physical Anthropology in 1946. He died on July 11, 1948.

Further Reading

A biographical account of Weidenreich appears in The Shorter Anthropological Papers of Franz Weidenreich, 1939-1948: A Memorial Volume (1949). Thomas K. Penniman, A Hundred years of Anthropology (1935; 3d ed. 1965), is recommended for general historical background. □

Weidenreich, Franz

views updated


WEIDENREICH, FRANZ (1873–1948), German anatomist, physical anthropologist, and paleontologist. Born in the Palatinate, Weidenreich taught anatomy at Strasbourg from 1899 to 1918 and at Heidelberg from 1921 to 1924. In 1928 he was appointed professor of anthropology at Frankfurt University. In 1935, during the Nazi regime, he left Germany and took a position at Union Medical College in Peking (Beijing), China. He settled in the United States in 1940, and from 1941 until his death was affiliated with the Museum of Natural History in New York City. A leading scholar of human evolution and morphology, Weidenreich became internationally known for his studies of Homo Sinanthropus, the human fossil remains discovered in China in 1927 of which he gave the first description in 1943. He also investigated the later Homo Sapiens group found at Chou Kou Tien in north China, Neanderthal skeletons from Europe and Central Asia and, together with the Dutch paleontologist Gustav Koenigswald, the remains of Pithecanthropus, Maganthropus and Paleojavinicus from Java.

Among the problems dealt with by Weidenreich in his articles were the relation of erect posture to the evolution of the foot, hand, pelvis, and skull, and the influence of the expansion of the brain on human development. His shorter anthropological papers written from 1939 to his death were published in 1949 (Eng.; ed. by S.L. Washburn and D. Wolffson).

[Ephraim Fischoff]