Neumayr, Melchior

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(b. Munich, Germany, 24 October 1845; d. Vienna, Austria, 29 January 1890)

paleontology, geology.

Neumayr was the son of Max von Neumayr, a Bavarian government minister. He attended secondary schools in Stuttgart and in Munich, where he also studied law. Under the influence of Oppel, he soon turned to paleontology and geology and received the doctorate in Munich in 1867. The following year he moved to Vienna and joined the Imperial Austrian Geological Survey. In 1872 he became Privatdozent in paleontology and stratigraphy at the University of Heidelberg. He returned to Vienna in 1873 to fill the new professorship of paleontology that had been created for him at the university and held this post until his death from a heart ailment. On 2 April 1879 he married Paula Suess, the daughter of his colleague Eduard Suess; they had three daughters.

Neumayr’s first scientific work was his geological mapping of southern Germany, the Carpathians, and the eastern Alps. His subsequent paleontological and stratigraphical investigations of the Jurassic period (1870-1871,1874) soon established him as an expert on this period and its fauna. In studies of the Upper Tertiary freshwater mollusks of Yugoslavia, work that he began in 1869, he showed the gradual transformation of the shell morphology in the various horizons. A follower of Darwin from his student days, Neumayr was the first to give a concise demonstration of the Darwinian theory of variation and evolution of species in invertebrate fossils (1875).

Neumay’s geological and paleonlogical investigations in Greece and in the Aegean Islands (1874–1876) made fundamental contributions to the knowledge of the geological structure of this region. In the Upper Tertiary of the island of Cos he found an even finer example of the evolution of freshwater snails (1880). A result of his studies in the Aegean was the first geological history of the eastern Mediterranean, in which methodological principles of paleogeography were demonstrated (1882).

Continuing his studies of the ammonites, Neumayr then turned his attention to the Cretaceous species, dividing them into new genera, as Suess had done for the Triassic and Jurassic forms. He clarified the relationships of the straightened forms to the parent curled genera and discussed the Cretaceous ammonites in relation to those of the Jurassic and Triassic periods. By extending his paleobiogeographic research to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods he created the foundations of the present conceptions of the faunal regions in the Jurassic seas (1885). He also studied climatic differentiation during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods (1883).

During his last years, Neumayr was occupied with writing comprehensive surveys and in his Erdgeschichte he produced a popular synthesis with strictly scientific methods. His unfinished Die Stämme des Thierreiches was Darwinian in approach and showed the close relationship between zoology and paleontology. He thereby raised paleontology—previously considered simply a study of index fossils—to the level of a basic biological science.


I. Original Works. Neumayr’s writings include “Jura-studien,” in Jahrbuch der Geologischen Bundesanstalt, 20 (1870), 549–558; 21 (1871), 297–379; “Die Fauna der Schichten mit Aspidoceras acanthicum,” in Abhandltmgen der Geologischen Bundesanstalt, 5 (1874), 141–257; “Die Congerien- und Paludinenschichten Slavoniens und deren Fauna” ibid., 7, no. 3 (1875), written with C. M. Paul; “Über den geologischen Bau der Insel Kos und die Gliederung der jungtertiaren Binnenablagerungen im Archipel,” in Denkschriften der Akademie der Wissenschaften, 40 (1880), 213–240; Zur Geschichte des östlichen Mittelmeerbeckens (Berlin, 1882); “Ueber klimatische Zonen wahrend der Kreide- und Jurazeit,” in Denkschriften der Akademie der Wissenschaften, 47 (1883), 277–310; “Die geographische Verbreitung der Juraformation” ibid., 50 (1885), 57–145; Erdgeschichte, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 1886–1887); and the unfinished, posthumously Published Die Stämme des Thierreiches. Wirbellose Thiere (Vienna-Prague, 1889).

II. Secondary Literature. See W. T. Blanford’s obituary in Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, 46 (1890), 54–56; F. Toula, “Zur Erinnerung an Melchior Neumayr,” in Annales geologiques de la Peninsule balkanique, 3 (1891), 1–9, with bibliography of 30 titles covering Neumayr’s work in the Balkans; V. Uhlig, “Melchior Neumayr. Sein Leben und Wirken,” in Jahrbuch der Geologischen Bundesanstalt, 40 (1891), I 20, with complete bibliography of 133 works; K. Lambrecht and W. and A. Quenstedt, “Palaeontologi. Catatogus bio-bibliographicus,” in Fossilium, Catalogus I: Animalia, 72 (1938), 311; and F. Steininger and E. Thenius: “Die Ära Melchior Neumayr (1873–1890),” in 100 Jahre Paläontologisches Institut der Universität Wien, 1873–1973 (Vienna, 1973), 14–17, with portrait.

Heinz Tobien