Roemer, Ferdinand

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(b. Hildesheim, Germany, 5 January 1818; d. Breslau, Germany [now Wroclaw, Poland], 14 December 1891)

geology paleontology.

Roemer’s father was councillor of the High Court of Justice in Hildesheim; his mother was the daughter of the mayor of that city. Like his brothers Friedrich Adolph and Hermann, both of whom also became geologists, Roemer attended secondary school in Hildesheim, then studied law at Göttingen and Heidelberg. He also attended lectures on the natural sciences, particularly geology and mineralogy, and developed a strong interest in them. Political difficulties prevented him from taking the final law examination, and Roemer thereupon decided to devote himself completely to a scientific career.

In the spring of 1840 Roemer moved to Berlin, where he completed his studies. His dissertation, written in Latin and concerning the fossil species of the genus Astarte, was published in 1843. Roemer then went to Bonn, where he spent two years investigating the geology of the Rhenish Mountains. He incorporated his results into his first major work, Das Rheinische Übergangsgebirge, published in 1844. In the spring of 1845 Roemer went to the United States on behalf of the Society for the Protection of German Emigrants. He spent most of his time in Texas, where he remained until April 1847. His vividly written accounts of his travels comprised a pioneering study on the physiography of Texas, together with a report on the society and culture of its inhabitants, remarks on political and economic conditions, and a short, clear description of the geology of the region.

Roemer returned to Germany in the fall of 1847 to become Privatdozent in geology and mineralogy at the University of Bonn. In 1852 he brought out a major monograph on the fauna of the marine Cretaceous period of Texas, with an appendix on Paleozoic and Tertiary fossils; in this, as in his other works on the Cretaceous, Roemer was the first to point out the differences between the northern (boreal) and southern (mediterranean) faunas, which he saw as an expression of climatic variation. In the same year Roemer also published a monograph on the extinct Blastoidea, one of a series of works on Paleozoic fossils, especially echinoderms. In 1854 he returned to the Cretaceous, devoting a fundamental paper to the Cretaceous of Westphalia.

In 1855 Roemer was appointed full professor of geology and paleontology at the University of Breslau, where he stayed for the rest of his life. Among his first works there was his new, enlarged edition of the volume dealing with the Paleozoic in H. G. Bronn’s Lethaea geognostica, published in 1856. Roemer contributed a comprehensive survey of Paleozoic floras and faunas, with the divisions and correlations of the era throughout the world. He projected a second part, which was to comprise a systematic description of stratigraphically important fossils, but did not carry it out (it was finished by Fritz Frech). Roemer’s own work is noteworthy because it constitutes the first full statement of his researches in this field and because he applied Murchison’s views on the English Paleozoic to the conditions existing in Germany. In a further, separate study (published in 1860) Roemer described the Silurian fauna of western Tennessee and compared it with European faunas of the same period.

Throughout his career in Breslau, Roemer made a series of thorough investigations of the geology and paleontology of Silesia. His research on the geology of Upper Silesia, begun in 1862, resulted in a number of geological maps and short communications. Eight years of fieldwork by Roemer and his colleagues culminated in his Geologie von Oberschlesien of 1870, a book that was for many years indispensable to the study of this area, rich in coal, iron, zinc, and lead. During this period Roemer also studied Pleistocene mammals, especially those of Silesia and Poland, and, starting in 1872, published a number of papers on the woolly rhinoceros, elasmothere, musk-ox, cave bear, and mammoth, as well as the Bovidae.

Roemer also systematically examined the boulders that the northern glaciers had transported, in moraines, to Silesia during the Pleistocene. He determined their fossil content and established that they had originated in the Baltic area, charting the course that they had followed. He published his results individually, then summed them up in his long article “Lethaea erratica,” published in 1885.

Roemer’s scientific accomplishments brought him a number of honors, among them membership in the academies of Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Munich and the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London. He traveled widely, mastered many modern languages, and was highly esteemed by his colleagues both in and out of Germany. He maintained a lifelong interest in literature and art, and was an engaging companion and witty raconteur. He died suddenly, of a heart attack, and was survived by his wife, Katharina Schäfer, whom he had married in 1869.


I. Original Works. Roemer’s writings include Das Rheinische Übergangsgebirge. Eine paläontologisch-geognostische Darstellung (Hannover, 1844); Texas. Mit besonderer Rücksicht auf deutsche Auswanderung and die physischen Verhältnisse des Landes nach eigener Beobachtung geschildert…. (Bonn, 1849); Die Kreidebildungen von Texas and ihre organischen Einschlüsse, mit einem die Beschreibung von Versteinerungen aus palāozoischen und tertiāren Schichten enthaltenden Anhange (Bonn, 1852); “Monographie der fossilen Crinoideenfamilie der Blastoideen and der Gattung Pentatrematites,” in Archiv für Naturgeschichte, 17 (1852), 323–397; “Die Kreidebildungen Westfalens. Mit einer geognostischen übersichtskarte,” in Verhandlungen des Naturhistorischen Vereins der preussischen Rheinlande, Westfalens und des Regierungsbezirks Osnabrück, 11 (1854), 29–180; H. G. Bronn’s Lethaea geognostica oder Abbildung and Beschreibung der für die Gebirgsformationen bezeichnendsten Versteinerungen; I , pt. 2, Palaco-Lethaea, 3rd. ed. (Stuttgart, 1856); Die silurisehe Fauna des westlichen Tennessee (Breslau, 1860); Geologie von Oberschlesien (Breslau, 1870); Lethaea palaeozoica oder Beschreibung und Abbildung der für die einzehlen Abtheilungen der palaeozoischen Formation bezeichnendsten Versteinerungen, 3 vols. (Stuttgart, 1876, 1880, 1883); “Die Knochenhöhlen von Ojcow in Polen,” in Palaeontographica, 29 (1883), 193–233; and “Lethaea erratica oder Aufzählung and Beschreibung der in der norddeutschen Ebene vorkommenden Diluvial-Geschiebe nordischer Sedimentärgesteine,” in Paläontologische Abhandlungen, 2 (1885), 250–420.

II. Secondary Literature. See the following, listed chronologically: W. Dames, “Ferdinand Roemer†” in Neues Jahrbuch für Mincralogie, Geologie and Paläontologie,1 (1892), 1–32, with complete bibliography of 344 titles; C. Struckmann, “Ferdinand Roemer,” in Leopoldina , 28 (1892), 31–32, 43–46, 63–67, with partial bibliography; F. W. Simonds, “Dr. Ferdinand Roemer, the Father of the Geology of Texas; His Life and Work,” in American Geologist, 29 (1902), 131–140, with 30 titles relating to North America, also, without bibliography, in Geological Magazine, 4th ser., 9 (1902), 412–417; and H. Bartenstein, “125 Jahre deutsche Unterkreide-Stratigraphie—ein historischer Rückblick auf das geologischpaläontologische Wirken der drei Brüder Roerner aus Hildesheim,” in Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie and Paläontologie. Monatshefte, 10 (1966), 595–602, with portrait.

Heinz Tobien