Czekanowski, Aleksander Piotr

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Czekanowski, Aleksander Piotr

(b. Krzemieniec, Poland [now Kremenets, Ukrainian S. S. R.], 12 February 1833; d St. Petersburg, Russia 18 October 1876)

geology, exploration.

Czekanowski’s father, Wawrzyniec (Laurenty), worked in the Krzeimieniec Academy, a Polish secondary school, and was a keen entomologist and collector of insects. His mother, Joanna Gastell, died during Aleksander’s early childhood, and he was brought up by the family of a distinguished naturalist, Willinald Besser, lecturer at Krzemieniec Academy and later professor of botany at the University of Kiev.

Czekanowski finished college in 1850 and entered the Faculty of Medicine of Kiev University. At the end of 1855 he moved to Dorpat University, where he studied in the department of mineralogy up to 1857. Owing to financial difficulties, he returned to Kiev without completing his studies. During the next five years he worked for an electrical engineering firm, Siemens and Halski, which was building a telegraph line to India.

During his studies in Kiev and Dorpat and his later period of employment, Czekanowski carried out studies in the natural sciences, collecting material and making observations. In Podole he gathered together rich collections of Silurian fossils; the armored fish from these collections were later added to by the paleontologist Friedrich Schmidt. Studying in Dorpat under the guidance of the geologist K. Grewingk, Czekanowski collected rich paleontological material from the Baltic Paleozoic and organized the mineralogical collections of the university. At this time, Czekanowski entered into a friendship and scientific cooperation with Schmidt, as well as with other Polish students at the university: the zooligist B. Dybowski; the paleontologist J. Nieszkowski, and the geologist G. Rupniewski. In Kiev, Czekanowski maintained contact with numerouos workers at the university, such as the zoologist K. Jelski, the anthropologist 1. Kopernicki, and others. They formed a Polish freedom organization and, after the outbreak of the January insurrection of 1863 in Warsaw, the majority of them were arrested and deported too Siberia.

In 1864 Czekanowski was sentenced to six years in a labor camp. He marched from Kiev with a group of prisoners, including an assistant lecturer in chemistry at Kiev University, Mikolaj Hartung. In spite of the extreme hardship of this trek, Czekanowski did not discontinue his scientific studies. He devised instruments, which he himself constructed, such as a magnifying glass made from a polished glass stopper.

On reaching Tomsk, Czekanowski fell ill with typhus, and only in the spring of 1865 was he able to continue to the place of deporation, in the region of Irkutsk. In April 1866 his sentence was reduced from hard labor to exile in Irkutsk province.

Czekanowski remained in Siberia until 1876. In spite of recurrent illness resulting from improperly treated typhus, he continued to conduct intensive studies in the natural sciences. During the early years of camp labor and later, when he worked for Siberian peasants, he was assisted in his studies only by other Polish deportees, B. Dybowski and W. Godlewski.

In 1868 Czekanowski entered into cooperation with the Russian Geographical Society, through the intervention of Schmidt. He made preliminary observations for the society of the geology of the Lake Baykal basin and afterward worked for three years on the geology of Irkutsk province. The results of these studies were published as a monograph, together with a geological map of the province, in 1874. On completing this work Czekanowski understood the immense task of investigating the geological structure of the Eastern Siberian upland, which had not been studied at all until then. In the years 1873–1875 he organized three scientific expeditions along the great Siberian revers Yenisey, Nizhnysys Tunguska, Olenek, Lena, snd Yana. The routes of these expeditions altogether covered more than 25,000 kilometers. Czekanowski traveled partly by boat and partly on horseback; where conditions were extraordinarily severe he used reindeer teams. He made surveys and maps of the areas investigated, and the observations and geological and Paleontological material collected during these expeditions provided a basis for knowledge of the vast region between Mongolia and the Aortic Ocean. Large areas of surface lavas and of Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks were discovered and investigated. Certain stratigraphic problems were solved, including the assignment of the Siberian coal measures to the Jurassic and not, as had formerly been believed, to the Carboniferous. The rich paleontological, zoological, and botanical collections assembled were found to contain many forms new to science. The material from these collections was later elaborated upon by the following scholars: Jurassic flora by O. Heer and J. Schmalhausen, armored fish by Schmidt, Jurassic fish by J. Rohon and H. Becker, and Triassic Ceratitids by E. Moysinovich.

In 1875, after twelve years of exile, Czekanowski was permitted to leave Siberia. In March 1876 he arrived in St. Petersburg, where he obtained the post of custodian in the Mineralogical Museum of the Academy of Sciences. In connection with work on paleontological material collected in Siberia, he traveled during the summer of that year to Stockholm to acquaint himself with fossils from Spitzbergen. He also received permission to make a brief visit to his home town of Krzemieniec. After returning to St. Petersburg on 30 September 1876, he committed suicide while in a state of depression.

Czekanowski’s most extensive work, the diaries of his 1873–1875 expeditions was not published until 1896. It was prepared for publication by his pupil and successor in Siberian studies, J. Czerski, and his friend of many years, Schmidt.

Czekanowski’s work brought him a series of distinctions and awards, such as gold medals from the Russian Geographical Society (1870) for geological studies in Irkutsk province, and from the International Geographical Congress in Paris (1875) for the maps of Eastern Siberia. Several genera and numerous species of plant and animal fossils, as well as four present–day plants, are named after him. A mountain range, about 320 kilometers in length, near the Lower Glensk, as well as ones of the peaks of the ChamarDaban range, Lake Baykal, also bear his name.


I. Original Works. A Complete list of the publication of A. Czekanowski—manuscripts left by him, as well as biographical works about him—is given in A. P. Czekanowski, A Collection of the Unpublished Work of A. P. Czekanowski and Dissertations on His Scientific studies, published in Russian by the Siberian branch of the U. S. S. R. Academy of Science(Irkutsk,1962).

II. Secondary Literature. Reports from individual studies and of the work of the expeditions organized by Czekanowoski were given up to 1876 in periodicals of the Russian Geographical Society. Memoirs and biographical works, all in in Polish by B. Dybowski, are “A Czekanowski, an obituary,” in Reports of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Geographical Society, 1877; Siberia and Kamchatka (Lvov,1899); Recollections (lvov,1913);and Memoirs 1862–1878 (Lvov, 1930). Others are H. Poplawska, “The Participation of Poles in Work in the Lake Baykal Region,” in Geographical Review (in Polish 1922);and R. D. Samoylevitsch, L’activité scientifique des revolutionaires polonais en Siberie (Lvov, 1934) Biographical works (in polish and Russian) are by T. Turkowski, in the Polish Biographical Dictionary, Vol. IV (Krakow, 1938), and in Reports of the Earth Museum (Vilna,1938);and L. Kleopov and H. B. Lackiiy. A. P. Czekanowski (Irkutsk,1962)

Stanislaw Czarniecki

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Czekanowski, Aleksander Piotr

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