Pfannenstiel, Max Jakob

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(b. Wanzenau, Alsace, Germany [now France], 25 July 1902; d. Freiburg im Breisgau, Federal Republic of Germany, 2 January 1976)


Pfannenstiel, a versatile geologist whose work encompassed paleontology, Quaternary geology, marine geology, and the history of geology, was the son of Hermann and Maria Reinach Pfannenstiel. His father was a notary and senior government adviser who came from a family of lawyers. The family subsequently moved to Mainz, where he graduated from the gymnasium in 1921. Pfannenstiel then studied natural sciences, particularly geology, with W. Salomon-Calvi in Heidelberg and occasionally with H. Cloos in Breslau. He received his doctorate under Salomon-Calvi in 1926, with a dissertation on joint tectonics; “Vergleichende Untersuchung der Grund- und Deckgebirgsklüfte im südlichen Odenwald” (published 1927). In 1926 he became an assistant to W. Deecke at Freiburg im Breisgau, where he remained until 1930. Then he studied to qualify as a science librarian, completing this course at Munich in 1932. On 8 April 1933 he married Christine Hormuth; they had two daughters. On 1 August 1933, Pfannenstiel was dismissed on racial grounds from his civil service position at the University of Freiburg library. Thereafter he worked in a bookstore in Freiburg.

In this first period of scientific activity in Freiburg, Pfannestiel made important contributions to a fossil catalog of the Upper Rhine (1931) and studied fossil amphibians. Other interests included the volcanic history of the Kaiserstuhl and the volcanic tuff of the foothills region.

From 1935 to 1938, Pfannenstiel was in Geneva as a Rockefeller scholar at the library of the Hygienics Institute of the League of Nations. Then Salomon-Calvi, who had been working in Ankara since 1934, found him a position there as director of the library of the agricultural technical school. The new environment awakened new interests: the diluvial rubble terraces of Ankara and the Old Stone Age cultures of Anatolia. Above all, being at a site that earlier had been on the coast kindled in him an enduring passion for the sea. In 1941 Pfannenstiel returned to Germany, where he was called up for military service. (His being one-quarter Jewish was of less importance than his knowledge of the eastern Mediterranean.) Doing cartographical work with the Berlin-Wannsee military geological staff and examining the hydrogeological relationships of Palestine and bordering regions, he was able to gather additional material for his Quaternary geological studies of the Levant.

In 1945 Pfannenstiel resumed his duties at the library of the University of Freiburg, and on 1 January 1947 he was named professor of geology, as successor to Wolfgang Soergel. In 1949 and 1950 Pfannenstiel served as dean of the department of mathematics and natural sciences; in 1954 and 1955 he was rector of the university.

Besides constructing the geological institute, Pfannenstiel used his mastery of the written and the spoken word to renew severed ties with Switzerland and France. And, to increase knowledge of early Tertiary vertebrates, he made systematic excavations near Oehningen (1947-1950) and at Höwenegg.

In Freiburg two interests crystallized out of Pfannenstiel’s earlier involvement with coastal geology: marine geology and the Ice Age. The evidence of Ice Age mirror variations of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea shed light on the Quaternary history of those areas. With his students Pfannenstiel developed bathymetric charts of the eastern Mediterranean. In “Quartär der Levante”, he addressed the coastal history of Palestine and Syria as well as the oasis depression in Egypt. As early as 1947, he devoted himself to researching the Quaternary of the Black Forest region. He and his colleague G. Rahm arrived at the view that during the Riss phase of the Ice Age, the glaciated area was substantially larger than had previously been thought.

Pfannenstiel became preoccupied with the history of geology and wrote articles on the subject. In 1970 he became emeritus. He devoted his last years to the reconstruction of the “geologists’ archive”, whose 45,000 manuscripts had fallen victim to wartime bombing.

Pfannenstiel was an amiable, generous man, and an enthusiastic researcher with deep roots in the tradition. Among his honors were member of the German Academy of Natural Scientists, Leopoldina (1952); honorary doctorate, University of Besancon (1961); member of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences, Mathematics-Matural History Class (1962); officer of the Order of the Palms of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1966); and the Hans Stille Medal of the German Geological Society (1974).


I. Original Works. A bibliography of Pfannenstiel’s writings by Hugo Genser is in Berichte der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft Freiburg im Breisgau, 67 (1977), 13-19. His works include “Vergleichende Untersuchung der Grund- und Deckgebirgskiofte im südlichen Odenwald”, in Berichte der Naturforshcenden Gesellschaft Freiburg im Breisgau, 27 (1927), 1-98, his dissertation; “Wirbellose und Wirbeltiere des Palaeozoikums”, in Oberrheinische Fossilienkatalog, Lieferung I (Berlin, 1931), 1-25, with Wilhelm Salomon-Calvi; “Gehirnkapsel und Gehirn fossiler Amphibien”, in Monographien zur Geologie und Paläontologie, 2nd ser., VI (Berlin, 1932), 1-85; “Die diluvialen Schotterterrassen von Ankara und ihre Einordnung in die europäische Quartärchronologie”, in Geologische Rundschau, 31 (1940), 407-432; “Diluvialen Entwicklungsstudien und die Urgeschichte von Dardanellen, Marmarameer und Bosporus”, ibid., 34 (1944), 341-434; “Lorenz Oken”, in Reden der Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Freiburg im Breisgau, 14 (1953), 1-24; “Die Vergletshcerung des südlichen Schwarzwaldes während der Risseiszeit”, in Berichte der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft Freiburg im Breisgau, 48 (1959), 231-272; and “Das Meer in der Geschichte der Geologie”, in Geoglogische Rundschau, 60 (1970), 3-72.

II. secondary Literature. There is a list of secondary literature in Gilbert Rahm, “Pfannenstiel, M.J.,” in Badische Biographie, n.s. 1 (1982), 220-221. See René Hantke and Gilbert Rahm, “Max Pfannenstiel †, 1902-1976”, in Eiszeitalter und Gegenwart, 26 (1975), 277-279; Franz Kirchheimer, “Max Pfannenstiel”, in Nachrichten der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft, 15 (1976), 34-37; Max Schwarzbach, “Max Pfannenstiel, 1902-1976”, in Geologische Rundschau, 65 (1976), 1130-1132; and Otto Wittmann, “Max Pfannenstiel, 1902-1976”, in Jahresberichte und Mitteilungen des Oherrheinischen geologischen Vereins, n.s. 58 (1978), 77-79.

Emil Kuhn-Schnyder