Reck, Hans

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(b. Wurzburg, Germany, 24 January 1886; d. Lourengo Marques, Mozambique, 4 August 1937)

volcanology, paleontology, paleoanthropology.

Reck, who came from a family of officers, attended the universities of Wiirzburg, London, and Berlin, receiving his doctorate from Berlin in 1910 with the dissertation—supervised by Wilhelm von Branca— “Islandische Masseneruptionen.” He then became Branca’s assistant at the Geological and Paleontological Institute of the University of Berlin. In this capacity he led the expedition sent by the Institute in 1912–1913 to Tendaguru (now in Tanzania) to excavate dinosaurs of the Upper Jurassic. In 1913 Reck headed an expedition sent by the Prussian Academy of Sciences to investigate the geological structure of the Germany colonies then in West Africa (now Togo and Cameroun). In 1913–1914, on behalf of the universities of Berlin and Munich, he made the first systematic excavations in the Olduvai Gorge (now in Tanzania) in the hope of finding Pleistocene human and animal remains. From 1915 to 1919 he served as a government geologist in German East Africa. After World War I, Reck was a private scholar and extraordinary professor at the Geological and Paleontological Institute, Berlin. During these years he made several more expeditions through East and South Africa. In 1931–1932 he participated in Louis Leakey’s expedition in the Olduvai Gorge.

By marshaling exceptional energy Reck overcame a congenital heart defect and was able to endure hardship and exertion over long periods, even surviving his experience as a soldier in the East African campaign and as a prisoner of war of the English in Egypt. He died of heart failure during a South African expedition. Shortly before his death the University of Athens awarded him an honorary doctorate for his volcanologic research on Santorini (Thira) Island in the Aegean Sea. Reck was married to I. von Grumbkow; they had no children.

Reck’s first geological works (1911–1912) dealt with the geomorphology of southern Germany: the earliest course of the Danube, the development of Triassic-Jurassic escarpments and recent crust movements. The African expeditions led to investigation of Quarternary sediments in East Africa, of the age of the great East African graben system and of the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary in Ethiopia. His first paleontologic studies (1911) were concerned with Neogene sea urchins of Java and—in collaboration with his friend Hans von Stafi—the mode of life of the trilobites, as well as with the bivalves found in the malm of Solnhofen (Bavaria).

In later publications Reck confined his attention to the vertebrates, especially the Pleistocene mammals of Africa. Gathering material in the course of his expeditions, he reported on the excavations of dinosaurs and pterodactyls in the Tendaguru and of reptiles in the Karroo series of Natal.

Reck’s excavations in the Olduvai Gorge became widely known. Its Pleistocene layers yielded not only numerous mammals but also a human skeleton that he reported in 1914. From then until 1937, he contributed to the Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der OldowayExpedition. In it he and other experts described the geology and fossil remains of the site. Following Leakey’s Olduvai expedition. Reck again examined— with Leakey and other English colleagues—the human skeleton discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in 1913. Today it is known that the skeleton is of a post-Ice Age man of the Capstan culture, and that it was embedded in layers dating from the early Pleistocene. In 1933 Reck wrote a popular book on his work in the Olduvai Gorge and in 1936, with Kohl-Larsen, he published the first survey of the Pleistocene human and animal remains discovered by the latter in the Njarasa graben in East Africa.

Volcanologic studies constituted a large portion of Reek’s scientific work. Beginning with his dissertation in 1910, he studied volcanism for more than twenty-five years. His publications in this field were devoted to volcanic regions or to specific volcanoes, both Tertiary and Recent. He wrote on the late Tertiary volcanoes of the Hegau (southwestern Germany), on volcanoes in Iceland, on African volcanoes, and on the eruptions and activity of Etna, Vesuvius, Krakatoa, and of Asian and South American volcanoes. Much of this material appeared in Zeitschrift fur Vulkanologie, of which Reck was coeditor from 1923. He was particularly interested in the volcanic island group of the Santorini in the Aegean Sea. He devoted many brief studies and a three-voiume work (1936) to the emergence and eruptions of the volcano there in the years 1925 to 1928.

Along with these regional descriptions, Reck was interested in general manifestations and problems of volcanism. Among the topics he treated were linear eruptions, craters of elevation, volcanic horsts, collapse calders, volcanic bombs, and the relationships between volcanism and tectonics. Hence his colleagues were indebted to him for having introduced many new ideas as well as for having expanded knowledge of recent and fossil volcanoes.


I. Original Works. Reek’s writings include “Is-landische Masseneruptionen,” in Gealogische und pala-ontotogische Abhandlungen, n.s. 9 (1910), 83–184; “Die morphologische Entwicklung der suddeutschen Stufen-landschaft im Lichte der Davis’schen Cyklustheorie,” in Zeitschrift der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft, 64 (1912), 81–232; “Physiographische Studie uber vulkanische Bomben” Zeitschrift fur Vulkanologie, supp.1 (1915); “Uber vulkanische Horst-Gebirge” ibid., 6 (1922), 155–182; Die Hegau-vulkane (Berlin, 1923); “Die Krafte-Gruppen des Vulkanismus und der Tektonik und ihre gegenseitigen Beziehungen” in Zeitschrift der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft76 (1924), 115–137; Grabungen auf fossile Wirbeltiere in Deutsch-Ostafrika, Geologische Charakterbilder, no. 31 (Berlin, 1925); “Uber die Tatigkeit von Etna und Vesuv im Herbst 1928,” in Zeitschrift der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft80 (1928), 345–352; “The Oldoway Human Skeleton” in Nature131 (1933), 397–398, written with L.B. Leakey et al.; Oldoway. Die Schlucht des Urmenschen (Leipzig, 1933); Santorn, der Werdegang eines Inselvulkans und sein Ausbruch 3 vols. (Berlin, 1936); “Erster Uberblick uber die jungdiluvialen Tier-und Menschenfunde Dr. Kohl-Larsen’ im noerdostilchen Teil des Njarasa-Grabens (Ostafrika” in Geologische Rundshau27 (1936), 401–441, written with L. Kohl-Larsen; and Wissenschaftliche Ergebniisse dser Oldoway-Experdition n.s. 4 (1937).

II. Secondary Literature. See. A. T. Hopwood, “Prof. Hans Reck,” inNature140 (1937), 351; Poggendorff, VI (1938), 2136–2137, with Partial bibliography; P. Range A. Diehm & G. A. Schmidt, “Prof. Dr. Hans Reck” in Tropenpflanzer, 40 (1937), 365; and K. Sapper, “Hans Reck †” in Zeitschrift fur Vulkanologie17 (1936–1938), 225–232, with bibliography and portrait.

Heinz Tobien