Gorjanovic-Kramberger, Dragutin (Karl)

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(b . Zagreb, Croatia, 25 October 1856, d. Zagreb, Austro-Hungarian Empire, in present-day Croatia, 24 December 1936), paleontology, geology, cartography.

Gorjanović-Kramberger is best known for his discovery and descriptions of the Neandertal remains from the Huŝnjakova rock shelter at Krapina in northwestern Croatia. The richness of human fossils, tools, and vertebrate fauna at Krapina made Gorjanović-Kramberger’s descriptions critical for understanding Neandertal’s place in human evolution. His careful excavation of the site, preservation of most of the material recovered from the excavations, application of modern techniques such the use of trace elements in relative dating and radiography, and documentation of evidence for cannibalism put him and the Krapina fossils in the vanguard of paleoanthropo-logical research at the turn of the twentieth century. He also made important contributions in cartography and the evolution of neogene fish and reptiles. Of German heritage in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1882 he dropped “Karl” from his name and added “Gorjanović” to reflect Croatian solidarity and generally signed his scientific papers Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger afterward.

Early Life . His father, Matija Kramberger, was a cobbler and innkeeper, and his mother, Terezija Duŝek (née Vrbanović), was a widow who had three children from an earlier marriage. Gorjanović-Kramberger became interested in natural history as a boy and frequently visited the natural history collection of Slavoljub Wormastiny, a pharmacist and taxidermist who worked for the National Museum in Zagreb. He began to collect fossils found by workers at the nearby quarry at Dolje and thus originated his interest in paleontology. He studied geology and paleontology for a few years at Zurich University and later at Munich University, where he met Karl Alfred von Zittel. At the time von Zittel was the leading vertebrate paleontologist in Europe, author of the five-volume Handbuch der Palaeontologie (1880–1893), and he greatly influenced Gorjanović-Kramberger’s thinking about morphological variation and taxonomy. Munich could not offer an advanced degree, so Gorjanović-Kramberger transferred to the Universität Tübingen; in 1879, at the age of twenty-three, he received his doctorate in natural sciences. Gorjanović-Kramberger’s doctoral research focused on fossil fish from the Carpathian Basin, but he was interested in the evolution of lizards as well and was broadly trained in the fundamentals of geology and cartography. These skills would become especially useful in 1899.

For his entire career, Gorjanović-Kramberger was located at the Croatian National Museum in Zagreb, starting as curator of the geology department in 1880 and later becoming director of the Department of Geology and Paleontology in 1893. He also accepted a position as assistant professor of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Zagreb in 1884, where he became a full professor in 1896. He was also involved in establishing the Croatian Natural History Society as well as the Mountain Climbing Society, and in 1892 he was appointed an associate member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. During this time Gorjanović-Kramberger met Emilija Burijan, a young Croatian woman of Czech descent, and the two were married in 1881. He quickly began conducting fieldwork and published on a variety of topics from the geological mapping of Croatia to the identification of natural resource localities to mollusks, though Miocene fish and Cretaceous lizards remained his primary academic interest. His highly respected reputation in Central European paleontology is reflected in the two plant and eleven animal species named after him (e.g., Apogon krambergeri).

The Krapina Neandertals . Gorjanović-Kramberger’s pale-ontological research focus took a new turn in 1899 when he found the first Neandertal tooth at Krapina. Extinct mammals had been recovered from Krapina and sent to the National Museum several years earlier and as a result Gorjanović-Kramberger began a search of a rock shelter on Huŝnjak Hill, located on the outskirts of town. Fieldwork from 1899–1905 at the site by Gorjanović-Kramberger and his associates, including Stjepan Osterman, who was a student at the University of Zagreb, led to the recovery of about 900 Neandertal bones representing most skeletal elements, almost 200 isolated human teeth, 1,191 tools, and approximately 3,000 remains from more than 40 taxa of extinct animals. Modern geological divisions of the Pleistocene had yet to be introduced, explaining why Gorjanović-Kramberger placed the remains in what was referred to at the time as the “diluvium.” Later, when glacial periods were formally identified, he assigned the material in the Riss/Würm interstadial. Subsequent absolute dating by electron spin resonance (ESR) confirmed this and established an antiquity for the hominids of 120,000–130,000 years ago, in what came to be called the Oxygen Isotope Stage (OIS) 5e.

Compared to other early-twentieth-century human paleontologists, Gorjanović-Kramberger used advanced techniques and practiced many procedures well before their time. He mapped a detailed stratigraphic profile, excavated following natural levels, saved every Neandertal fossil he encountered, numbered each fossil and recorded directly on it the level of derivation, kept most of the faunal remains and all the stone tools, and allowed qualified scientists to see his fossils before they were fully published. He was the first to use the new field of radiology for documenting Neandertal morphology and published the first radiograph image of a hominid fossil in 1902. He conducted trace element (fluorine) analysis to confirm the contemporaneity of fossil mammals and the Neandertals, and published multiple, high-quality photographs of the fossils. He was first to provide evidence for cannibalism in the human fossil record based on burned specimens, cut marks, and other bone damage, using this as a way of authenticating the fossils’ antiquity.

Gorjanović-Kramberger delivered an early paper on his work to the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences in December 1899, where he compared the Krapina fossils with the Neandertal jaw found at La Naulette, in Belgium, in 1866 and with the juvenile Neandertal jaw found at Ŝipka, in Moravia, in 1880. The German anatomist Hermann Klaatsch, a professor at the University of Heidelberg, was one of the first scientists to visit Gorjanović-Kramberger and to inspect the Krapina fossils and offer his interpretation of their significance. Gorjanović-Kramberger’s own views about the Krapina fossils were influenced by his meeting the German anatomist Gustav Schwalbe at the Anthropological Congress held in Kassel in 1903. Schwalbe, an early supporter of the idea that Neandertals were ancestral to modern humans. His perspective greatly influenced Gorjanović-Kramberger’s conclusion that the Krapina fossils were Neandertals, or in Schwalbe’s terminology, Homo primigenius. Gorjanović-Kramberger eventually produced eighty-four single authored publications on Krapina, and while his ideas were especially influential with German scholars, it took some time for the importance of his work to be recognized.

In 1906 Gorjanović-Kramberger published a lengthy monograph on the fossils, Der diluviale Mensch von Krapina in Kroatien (Diluvial man from Krapina in Croatia), which contained a detailed analysis of the Neandertal fossils, along with discussions of the geology, stratigraphy, animal fossils, and archaeology of the site. He promoted the view that the Neandertals were the direct ancestors of modern humans and that they marked a transitional phase between apes and humans. He explained the robust anatomy of the Neandertals—which had been considered the result of various pathologies by the German anthropologist and anatomist Rudolf Virchow—as being caused by the harsh environment within which the Neandertals lived, as well as the crudeness of the tools they used. Moreover, Gorjanović-Kramberger identified evidence in the bones of numerous injuries, which indicated to him the dangerous and difficult conditions of Neandertal life. In addition to his many publications, Gorjanović-Kramberger also traveled to Vienna, Strasbourg, Budapest, Munich, and other German cities to lecture on his discoveries, but perhaps due to language barriers he did not lecture in France, England, or the United States.

In the early twenty-first century, Gorjanović-Kramberger is widely recognized as one of Europe’s first pale-oanthropologists in his effective incorporation of archaeology and biological aspects of human evolution. While referring to the Krapina fossils as Homo primigenius—the name given to the original Neandertal specimen by German anatomist Hermann Schaaffhausen and widely used by German scientists in the nineteenth century—Gorjanović-Kramberger always contended that Neandertals possessed considerable morphological variation and were on the line leading to modern humans. The influential American physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, Aleŝ HrdliČka, wrote some of the first descriptions in English about the Krapina remains in 1914 (and in more detail in 1930) and the German anatomist Franz Weidenreich dedicated his classic monograph on the Zhoukoudian Peking Man teeth to Gorjanović-Kramberger in 1937, a year after his death. But it was not until the reanalysis of the specimens and the resulting publications of American paleoanthropologists Fred H. Smith and Milford H. Wolpoff in the 1970s that Krapina became widely known among American and British paleoanthropologists. As of 2007, almost any analysis of Neandertal anatomy or evolution includes Krapina as a starting or comparative point, because of the meticulous collection of the hundreds of Neandertal bones and teeth by Gorjanović-Kramberger. In 2006, along with Nikola Tesla, a Croatian birth cohort of 1856, the United Nations Educational, Cultural, and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) recognized Gorjanović-Kramberger’s contributions to science on the sesquicentennial of his birthday.

Other Achievements . While the Krapina Neandertals occupied much of his time after 1899, of his 242 publications, those about Krapina constitute only a third of the total. Other research involved Croatian cartography and surveying projects especially designed at recovering natural resources, and he wrote on diverse topics from water supplies to earthquakes to fossil whales. In 1909 Gorjanović-Kramberger helped to create the Geological Survey of Croatia, and in 1911 he founded the journal Vijesti geoloskog povjerenstva (Geological Survey News), which he edited from 1911 to the final year of its publication in 1916. Outside paleoanthropology, Gorjanović-Kramberger is most recognized for his contributions to the evolution and taxonomy of fossil mollusks, fish, and lizards. These include his naming the genus Aigialosaurus and the evolutionary sequences of fish and invertebrates. In recognition of his scientific achievements, Emperor Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire named Gorjanović-Kramberger a Court Counselor and awarded him the coveted Golden Chain Award in 1907. He retired from his professorship at the University of Zagreb and as director of the National Museum in 1924. In his lifetime, Gorjanović-Kramberger was also famous for these contributions in nonhuman paleontology, but he will be remembered for his methodical, far-sighted work about the Krapina Neandertals.



“Der paläolithische Mensch und seine Zeitgenossen aus dem Diluvium von Krapina in Croatien.” Mittheilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 29 (1899): 65–68.

“Der diluviale Mensch aus Krapina in Kroatien.” Mittheilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 30 (1900): 203.

“Der paläolithische Mensch und seine Zeitgnossen aus dem Diluvium von Krapina in Kroatien.” Mittheilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 31 (1901): 164–197.

“Der paläolithische Mensch und seine Zeitgenossen aus dem Diluvium von Krapina in Kroatien (Nachtrag, als zweiter Theil).” Mittheilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 32 (1902): 189–216.

“Der paläolithische Mensch und seine Zeitgnossen aus dem Diluvium von Krapina in Kroatien. Zweiter Nachtrag (als dritter Teil).” Mittheilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 34 (1904): 187–199.

“Der paläolithische Mensch und seine Zeitgnossen aus dem Diluvium von Krapina in Kroatien. Dritter Nachtrag (als vierter Teil).” Mittheilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft in Wien 35 (1905): 197–229.

Der diluviale Mensch von Krapina in Kroatien. Ein Beitrag zur Paläoanthropologie. Wiesbaden: Kreidel, 1906.

“Die Kronenund Wurzelnder Mahlzähnedes Homo primigenius und ihre genetische Bedeutung.” Anatomischer Anzeiger 31 (1907): 97–134.

Fosilni proboscidi Hrvatske i Slavonije. (De proboscidibus fossilibus Croatiæ et Slavoniæ). Zagreb: Knjizara Jugoslavenske akademije, 1912.

“Život i kultura diluvijalnoga Čovjeka iz Krapine u Hrvatskoj (Homo diluvialis e Krapina, Croatia, vita et cultura).” Djela Jugoslavenske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti 23 (1913): 1–54.

PraČovek iz Krapine. Zagreb: Hrvatski prirodoslovno druŝtvo, 1918.


Frayer, David W. The Krapina Neandertals: A Comprehensive, Centennial, Illustrated Bibliography. Zagreb: Croatian Natural History Museum, 2006.

Henke, Winfried. “Gorjanović-Kramberger’s Research on Krapina: Its Impact on Paleoanthropology in Germany.” Periodicum biologorum 108 (2006): 239–252.

Hrdlička, Alešscheck;. “The Most Ancient Skeletal Remains of Man.” Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution (1913), 491–552.

———. The Skeletal Remains of Early Man. Vol. 83, Miscellaneous Collections. Washington, DC: 1930.

Kochansky-Devidé, Vanda. “Prof. Dr. Gorjanović als Paläontologe. Poseban otisak iz knjige.” In Krapina, 1899-1969, edited by Mirko Malez, 5–11. Zagreb: Jugoslavenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, 1970.

———. “Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger als Anthropologe.” In Krapinski Pračovjek i evolucijy Hominida, 53–59. Zagreb: Jugoslavenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, 1978.

———, and Mirko Malez. “Bibliografija Gorjanovićevih radova i članaka o Gorjanoviću.” Geolo&scheck;ki vjesnik 10 (1957): 17–29.

Kricun, Morrie, Janet Monge, Alan Mann, et al. The Krapina Hominids: A Radiographic Atlas of the Skeletal Collection. Zagreb: Croatian Natural History Museum, 1999.

Malez, Mirko. Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger (1856–1936). Zagreb: Jugoslavenska akademija znanosti i umjetnosti, 1987.

Radovčić, Jakov. Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger i krapinski pračovjek: poĉeci suvremene paleoantropologije(Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger and Krapina Early Man: The Foundations of Modern Paleoanthropology). Zagreb : Hrvatski prirodoslovni muzej, 1988.

———, Fred H. Smith, Erik Trinkaus, et al. The Krapina Hominids: An Illustrated Catalog of the Skeletal Collection. Zagreb: Mladost Press and the Croatian Natural History Museum, 1988.

Rink, Jack, Henry P. Schwarcz, Fred H. Smith, et al. “ESR Dates for Krapina Hominids.” Nature 378 (1995): 24.

Smith, Fred. “The Neandertal Remains from Krapina: A Descriptive and Comparative Study.” University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology Reports of Investigations 15 (1976): 1–359.

———. “Gorjanović-Kramberger, Dragutin (Karl) (1856–1936).” In History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, edited by Frank Spencer. New York: Garland, 1997.

———. “Krapina.” In History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, edited by Frank Spencer. New York: Garland, 1997.

Trinkaus, Eric, and Pat Shipman. The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Weidenreich, Franz. “The Dentition of Sinanthropus pekinensis: A Comparative Odontography of the Hominids.” In Palaeontologia Sinica, New Series D, No.1, Whole Series No. 101, 1937.

Wolpoff, Milford H. “The Krapina Dental Remains.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 50 (1979): 67–114.

———, Jakov Radovčić, Fred H. Smith, et al. The Krapina Neandertals: An Illustrated Catalog of the Skeletal Collection. Zagreb: Croatian Natural History Museum, 1988.

David W. Frayer

Jakov Radovčić