Rütimeyer, Karl Ludwig

views updated


(b. Biglen, Bern Canton, Switzerland, 26 February 1825; d. Basel, Switzerland, 25 November 1895)

vertebrate paleozoology, geography.

The scion of an ancient cantonal family, Rütimeyer was intended for the ministry. His parents, Albrecht Rütimeyer, a pastor in Biglen, and Marie Margaretha Küpfer, subsequently moved to Bern, where Rütimeyer studied theology and then medicine at the University of Bern. His early interests in natural history and geology were stimulated under the fascinating influence of Studer, who taught geology at the university. Rütimeyer’s field studies in the 1840’s of the Bernese Oberland and of the Solothurn Jura, as well as his correspondence with Murchison, led to his dissertation on the Swiss nummulitic terrain. In 1850 he received the doctorate in medicine.

Following three lively years of geological, zoological, and clinical study and experience in Paris, London, Leiden, and Italy, Rütimeyer accepted (1853) an extraordinary professorship in comparative anatomy at the university in Bern. Apparently his reception at Bern was somewhat mixed—perhaps because of his stance during the Sonderbund. He subsequently resigned from this post and spent part of 1854 with Murchison in London, where a Himalayan expedition reached the planning stages. Late in 1855 he was named ordinary professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at the University of Basel, thus beginning a distinguished teaching and research career that spanned almost four decades. He was later named rector (1865) and then professor in the medical and philosophical faculties, having received in 1874 a doctorate in philosophy honoris causa.

Rütimeyer made significant contributions to the natural history and evolutionary paleontology of ungulate mammals, especially the artiodactyls. His comparative odontography of ungulates (1863) was perhaps the first serious attempt after Darwin’s Origin to interpret fossil mammals as parts of evolutionary lineages by showing the gradual change in dentitions. Rütimeyer discovered that ungulate milk teeth are conservative and thus closer in character to those of their nearest known ancestors than to permanent dentitions that are dissimilar in series. The significance that Rütimeyer attached to dental characters for phylogenetic interpretations preceded the more explicit series of horses and other ungulates proposed in the 1870’s by Huxley, Kovalevsky, and Marsh.

A cautious developmentalist, Rütimeyer did not accept the Darwinian explanation of natural selection. It was likely too mechanistic a concept for a theologically trained biologist who held the widest view of natural history and whose writings reflect early influences of Humboldt’s Kosmos, vertebrate body plans, and something of Karl von Baer’s Naturphilosophie.

Rütimeyer’s work advanced the study of mammalian evolution and biogeography. His investigation of the fauna of the Swiss lake dwellings (1862) appears to have been as significant for his subsequent researches as Darwin’s interest in variation under domestication was for his ideas of transmutation of species. Rütimeyer’s researches into the natural history, comparative osteology, evolutionary patterns, and paleozoogeography of perissodactyls, suids, and ruminants, as well as his studies of the diverse Eocene fauna of Egerkingen and of fossil turtles, earned him world renown. Many of his findings were used by Karl von Zittel in the latter’s contemporary, general paleontological treatises.

In 1869 Rütimeyer published a significant analysis of Swiss valley and lake origin. To the earlier fluvialist explanations of Hutton and Lyell, he added an actualistic concept of valley development by headward stream erosion. Rütimeyer emphasized that varying rates of erosion, acting over long time intervals on differing geographies and rock types along stream courses, will produce diverse landforms. These forms might then be classified by relative age, a concept foreshadowing the Davisian tradition in geomorphology.

Rütimeyer traveled extensively in Europe during the 1870’s and 1880’s, adding to his experience and collections. In Basel he actively and influentially promoted and served both national and civic academic, natural history, paleontological, anthropological, and mountaineering societies and museums. With the brothers Sarasin, he aided Swiss conservation efforts. Rütimeyer retired from the university faculty late in 1893, but he retained his membership in the public libraries commission of Basel and also his directorship of its natural history museums. He continued his researches until his death. Rütimeyer was survived by his wife, Charlotte Laura Fankhauser, whom he had married in 1855, and their only child, Ludwig Leopold, who later became extraordinary professor of anthropology at Basel.


I. Original Sources. Rütimeyer’s autobiographical sketch is in Gesammelte Kleine Schriften allgemeinen Inhalts aus dem Gebiete der Naturwissenschaft ..., Hans Georg Stehlin, ed., I (Basel, 1898), in which several of his zoological papers are reprinted. Vol. II contains four of his earlier physiographical works, a quartet of memorials, and a bibliography. The Staatsarchiv in Basel contains complete correspondence between Rütimeyer and the cantonal government concerning his position as university professor and head of the Vergleichendanatomische Sammlungen in the museum of Natural History.

The Archiv also holds correspondence between Rütiteyer and Felix, Paul, and Fritz Sarasin, and Rudolf Staehelin-Stockmeyer. Most of his important letters, which are held by his granddaughter Dr. Elizabeth Rütimeyer and others of the family, are in Brief von Ludwig Rütimeyer (1825–1895) als Manuscript gedrucktBasel, 1902 and “Ludwig Rütimeyer: Brief und Tagebuchblätter”, both eidted by L. L. Rütimeyer; the latter was published in L. E. Iselin and P. sarasin, Einleitung: Lebens- und Charakterbild Rütimeyers (Frauenfeld, 1906), The University of Basel library holds a few letters and student notes from several of Rütimeyer’s courses.

Rütimeyer’ paleontological and zoological writings are cited in Alfred Sherwood Romer, et al., Bibliography of Fossil Vertebrates Exclusive of North America 1509–1927. II L-Z, which is Memoirs, Geological Society of America, 87 (1962), 782, 1191–1193. Major works include; “Die fauna der Pfabibauten der Schweiz” inNeue Denkschirften der Allgemeinen Schweizerischen Gesellschaft der gesammten Naturwisenschaften, 19 , no. 1 (1862); “Eocaene Saugethier aus dem Gebiet des schweizerischen Jura”, ibid., 19 , 0.3 (1862); “Beitrāge zur Kenntniss der fossilen Pferdend zur vergleichenden odontogrphie der Hufthiere berhautp” in Verhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel,3 (1863 [1862]), 558–696, pls, —IV: Die Grenzen der Therwelt. Eine Betrachtung zu Darwin’s Lehre (Basel, 1868), dedicated to Kari vonBaer; Ueber die Art des Forschrittesin den Organischen Geschöpfen (Basel, 1876): Ueber einige Beziehungen zwischen den Sāugetierstāmmen alter und neuer Welt. Eraster Nachtrag. Egerkingen” in Abhandungen der Scheweizerischen Palāontoltogischen Gesellschaft, 15 (1881), 1–63, pl. 1: “Uebersicht der eocaenen Fauna von Egterkingen. Nebst einer Erwiderung von Prof. E. D. Cope.Zweiter Nachtrag... Egerkingen (1862)”, in verhandlungen der Naturforscenden Gelleschaft in Basel, 9 (1890), 331–362: and, “Die eocaenen Sāugethierwelt von Egerkingen. Gesammtdar stellung und dritter Nachtrag... ‘Eocaene Sāugethieren... (1862); ’ op.cit., 18 (1891), 159 p. 8pls.

Rütimeyer’s writings in others fields are Vom Meer bisnach den Alpen..Schilderungen von Bau, Form, und Farbe unseres Continentes auf einem Durchschnitt von England bis Sicilien (Basel, 1854), also published as Van de Zee tot de Alpen (Doesburgeh, 1857);Ueber Thalund Seebildung. Beitrāge zum verstündniss der Oberlāche der Schweiz (Basel, 1869): “Ein Blick auf die Geschichte der Gletscherstudien in de Scheweiz”, in Jahrbuch der Schweizer Alpenclub, 16 (1881), 377–418; and Entstehung und Verlauf der Vermessung des Rhonegletschers (Basel,1896).

Rütimeyer’s verse is collected in Gedichte von Ludwig Rütimeyer, L. L. Rütimeyer, ed. (Basel, 1901)

II. Secondary Literature. An evaluation of Rütimeyer’s papers is Antoine Wahl, L’s Oeuvre géographique de L. Rütimeyer. Une analyse critique (Fribourg 1927). Of the ten memorials and obituaries listed in Gesammelte Kleine Schriftern, II , the most extensive are L. E. Iselin, “Carl Ludwig Rütimeyer”, in Basler Jahrbuch 1897 (1897), 1–47; and Carl Schmidt, “Ludwig Rütimeyer”, in Basler Nachrichten, 3–7 December 1895, repr. with modifications in Verhandlungen der Scheweizerischen Naturforschenden Gesellscheaft, 78 Jahresversammlung ... 1895 (1896), 213–256.

Brief sketches and evaluations are Eduard His, “kari Ludiwig Rütimeyer 1825–1895”, in His, ed., Basler Gelehrte des 19 Jahrhunderts (Basel, 1941), 202–212; Adolf Portmann, “Ludwig Rütimeyer 1825–1895...”, in Andrew Staehiln, ed, Professoren de Universitāt Basel aus fünf Jahrhunderten. Bildnisse und Würdigungen... (Basel, 1960), 160–161; H. G. Stehlin, “Kari Ludwig Rütimeyer aus Bern, 1825–1895”, in Eduard Fueter, ed., Grosse Schweizer Forscher.. (Zurich, 1941), 270–271; and Ewald Wust, “Ludwig Rütimeyer (1825–1895)als Begründer der historischen Paläontologie”, in Palaeontologische Zeitschrift, 8 , no. 1/2 (1927), 34–39.

Clifford M. Nelson