Roemer, Friedrich Adolph

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(b. Hildesheim, Germany, 14 April 1809; d. Clausthal, Germany, 25 November 1869)

stratigraphy, paleontology.

Like his younger brother Ferdinand, Roemer attended the Gymnasium in Hildesheim, where his father was councillor of the High Court of Justice. From 1828 to 1831 he studied law at Göttingen and Berlin, and then was a judicial official in Hildesheim and in Bovenden, near Göttingen. In 1843 he was transferred to the Mining Office at Clausthal in the Harz Mountains. A few years later Roemer was placed in charge of teaching geology and mineralogy at the Mining School in that city, and in 1862 he was appointed its director. He resigned from the government service in 1867 because of poor health. In the last years of his life Roemer gave large sums of money and donated his extensive collections of minerals and fossils to the city museum of Hildesheim, which had been founded by his younger brother Hermann; the museum still bears the family name.

Roemer’s independent study of geology and paleontology dates from his appointment as judicial officer in Hildesheim, and his interest was inspired by geological conditions in the area. Lacking both formal training and research experience, he began his investigations in the northwestern German Jurassic. He obtained the necessary paleontological literature from libraries in Göttingen and Hannover and copied it, including the illustrations, in his own hand.

Roemer’s first extensive work, Die Versteinerungen des norddeutschen Oolithen-Gebirges, appeared in 1836. It provided the first insight into the fossil riches (over 250 new species) and stratigraphic subdivisions of the northwestern German Jurassic, as well as a comparison with the southern German and English Jurassic. The results of his subsequent investigations, which were extended to the Cretaceous, appeared in 1841 as Die Versteinerungen des norddeulschen Kreidegebirges; nine species of plants, seven hundred fifty of Metazoa, thirty-three of Foraminifera, and seven of Ostracoda were described. Until then knowledge of the Cretaceous fossils in northwestern Germany was incomplete, and the stratigraphic division contained many errors. Beyrich, a severe critic, recognized the importance of these studies in 1849 and praised them.

In the meantime, the publications of Murchison and Sedgwick on the Silurian and Devonian in England had attracted Roemer’s attention. They led to his concern with the Harz Mountains, on the northwest border of which Hildesheim lies and in the middle of which Clausthal is located. In six long papers published between 1843 and 1866, Roemer described primarily the Devonian and Lower Carboniferous of the northwestern Harz with regard to its fossil contents and detailed stratigraphic division. These works represented major progress in knowledge of the Devonian and Lower Carboniferous. When Roemer began his investigations in the Harz, only a few fossils from three or four localities—most of them incorrectly interpreted—were known. When he completed them, he had described more than 500 species, from many localities, of mostly varied stratigraphic position within the Devonian and Lower Carboniferous. Moreover, he published monographs on the Tertiary Bryozoa and Anthozoa, as well as on the Cretaceous sponges of northwestern Germany. His serious interest in botany, which dated from his school days, is attested to by a large work on the algae of Germany (1845).

In addition to specialized studies Roemer produced comprehensive summary presentations of his field of study. Thus in 1853 he composed—at the request of a friend, the biologist Johannes Leunis—the third part (geology and mineralogy) of the latter’s Synopsis der drei Naturreiche, a popular and widely disseminated work. The Synopsis also presented contemporary knowledge in zoology and botany. Roemer’s talent for synopsis was due in no small measure to his teaching, over a period of twenty-four years, at the Mining School (now the Technical University) of Clausthal. The extensive mineral collection there-one of the largest in Germany—is the result of his work.

Roemer’s monographs on the Jurassic and Cretaceous in northwestern Germany and on the Paleozoic of the northwestern Harz provided the foundation for knowledge of the faunas and for the present stratigraphy of these geological periods in northern Germany. In addition, many of the fossil forms that he described have become supraregional guide fossils: for example, approximately twenty of his Foraminifera and Ostracoda species from the northern German Cretaceous today have European, and in part worldwide, stratigraphic significance.


I. Original Works. Roemer’s writings include Die Versteinerungen des norddeutschen Oolithen-Gebirges (Hannover, 1836); Die Versteinerungen des norddeutschen Kreiodebirges (Hannover, 1841); Die Versteinerungen des Harzgebirges(Hannover, 1843); Die Algen Deutschlands (Hannover, 1845); “Beiträge zur geologischen Kenntnis des nord-westlichen Harzgebirges,” in Palaeontographica, 3 (1850), 1–67; 3 (1852), 69–112; 5 (1855), 109–156; 9 (1860), 153–202; 13 (1866), 201–236; “Beschreibung der norddeutschen tertiären Polyparien,” Ibid., 9 (1862), 199–246; and “Die Spongitarien des norddeutschen Kreidege birges,” Ibid., 13 (1864), 1–64.

II. Secondary Literature. See the following, listed chronologically: Ferdinand Roemer, “Nekrolog von Friedrich Adolph Roemer,” in Zeitschrift der Deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft, 22 (1870), 96–102, with partial bibliography; E. Böckh, H. J. Martini, and A. Pilger; “Friedrich Adolph Roemer (1809–1869),” in Geologisches Jahrbuch, 76 (1959), xxi-xxviii, with complete bibliography; and H. Bartenstein, “125 Jahre deutsche Unterkreide-Stratigraphie—ein historischer Rückblick auf das geologisch-paläontologische Wirken der drei Brüder Roemer aus Hildesheim,” in Neues Jalurbuch für Geologie and Paläontologie, Monatshefte, 10 (1966), 595–602, with portrait.

Heinz Tobien