Jaekel, Otto

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Jaekel, Otto

(b. Neusalz an der Oder, Germany [now Nowa Sól, Poland], 21 February 1863; d.Peking, China, 6 March 1929)


Jaekel, whose parents ran a butcher shop in Neusalz, attended the Gymnasium in Liegnitz. He then studied geology under Ferdinand Roemer at Breslau (1883) and paleontology under K. A. R. von Zittel at Munich (1885-1886), where he received his doctorate. He became an assistant at the Geological-Paleontological Institute of the University of Strasbourg, and following a short stay in London was made a Privatdozent at the University of Berlin in 1890; four years later he was appointed an assistant professor and curator of the Geological-Paleontological Institute and museum. Although a desired nomination to the chair of paleontology at Vienna did not materialize, in 1906 he obtained this post at the University of Greifswald (Pomerania). Upon his retirement in 1928, he accepted an invitation from Sun Yat-sen University, Canton, China, to assume a professorship in paleontology. He died of pneumonia six months later in the German Hospital in Peking; he was survived by his son and daughter.

Outside of a few geological works, Jaekel’s field of research was primarily paleontology. He concentrated on the echinoderms and the vertebrates and wrote several major monographs on the Paleozoic stalked echinoderms (pelmatozoans) in which he established, among other things, the new class Carpoidea. Among the vertebrates, his chief interests were fish and reptiles, and general questions concerning the origin and descent of vertebdrates. With regard to fish, he investigated primarily the Paleozoic groups, especially the placoderms and the Elasmobranchii. Through field collections made at the Upper Devonian locality of Wildungen, near Kassel, he provided, in large part, the specimens used in these investigations, which he published only in provisional form. His study of reptiles included the placodonts, turtles, and dinosaurs of the Triassic, as well as other Mesozoic reptilian groups. Here, too, he carried out his own excavations in the Upper Triassic at Halberstadt, near Magdeburg.

In the last years of his life Jaekel was occupied with general problems concerning the origin of vertebrates, the morphogenesis of the teeth and the skeleton, and descent and phylogenetic interrelationship of the great vertebrate groups. Like many of his other studies, his works on these subjects contain numerous new ideas and insights. But they were often insufficiently substantiated by the evidence, and therefore provoked criticism from his contemporaries. Much of this criticism must be attributed to his artistic inclinations and to his personal temperament. A passionate, gifted painter and connoisseur of Far Eastern art, his approach to paleontology was sometimes that of the artist rather than that of the scientist, and thus his ideas, often brilliant and stimulating, were not always verified by the critical scientific method. Advocating a greater independence of paleontology from geology, he founded, in 1912, the Paleontological Society and its publication Paläontologische Zeitscrift.


I. Original Works. Jaekel’s works include “Die Selachier aus dem oberen Muschelkalk Lothringens,” in Abhandlungen zur geologischen Spezialkarte von Elsass- Lothringen, 3 (1889), 275-332; Die eozänen Selachier vom Monte Bolca, ein Beitrag zur Morphologie der Wirbeltiere (Berlin, 1894); Stammesgeschichte der Pelmatozoen (Berlin, 1899); “Neue Wirbeltierfunde aus dem Devon von Wild-ungen,” in Sitzungsberichte der Gesellschaft naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin, no. 3 (1906), pp. 73-85; Die Wirbeltiere, eine Übersicht über die fossilen und lebenden Formen (Berlin, 1911); “Die Wirbeltierfunde aus dem Keuper von Halberstadt,” in Paläontologische Zeitschrift, 2 (1918), 88-214; “Phylogenie und System der Pelmatozoen,” ibid., 3 (1921), 1-128; “Das Problem der chinesischen Kunstentwicklung,” in Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, no. 6 (1920-1921), pp. 493-518; “Das Mundskelett der Wirbeltiere,” in Gegenbaurs morphologisches Jahrbuch, 55 (1925), 402-484; “Der Kopf der Wirbeltiere,” in Zeitschrift für die gesamte Anatomie, 27 , sec. 3 (1927), 815-974; and “Die Morphogenie der ältesten Wirbeltiere,” in Monographien zur Geologie und Paläontologie, 1st ser., no. 3 (1929).

II. Secondary Literature. See O. Abel, “Otto Jaekel,” in Palaeobiologica, 2 (1929), 143-186, with complete bibliography and portrait; E. Henning “Otto Jaekel”, in Zentralblatt füur Mineralogie, Geologie und Paläaontologie, sec. B (1929), pp.268-271; S. von Bubnoff,“Otto Jaekel als Forscher,” in Mitteilungen des naturwissenschaftlichen Vereins füur Neu-Vorpommern und Rüugen in Greifswald57 -58 (1929-1930), 1-9; F. Krüger,“Otto Jaekel als Persönlichkeit,” ibid., 10-17 W. Gross, “Herkunft und Entstehug der Wirbeltiere in der Sicht Otto Jaekel’ in Paläontologische Zeitschrift, 37 (1963), 32-48; and H. Wehrli, “Otto Jaekel (Greifswald, 1906-1928),” in Festschrift zur 500-Jahrfeier der Universität Greifswald (Greifswald, 1956), pp. 498-503.

Heinz Tobien