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Teichert, Curt

TEICHERT, CURT

(b. Königsberg, Prussia, 8 May 1905;

d. Arlington, Virginia, 10 May 1996), geology, paleozoic stratigraphy and paleontology, Cephalopoda, ancient and modern reefs, correlation and sedimentation.

Teichert made significant contributions to knowledge of a variety of fossil organisms, particularly cephalopods. The best-known current examples of this class of Mollusca are the squid and octopus. The modern chambered Nautilus, which Teichert also studied, is the only living, shelled cephalopod. In older times, particularly in the Paleozoic, the ancestors of Nautilus were abundant and diverse forms, having a long fossil record. Along with his contributions to paleontology, Teichert was prominent in correlation, the matching of beds of the same age in different locations. As a result of his later activities on several continents, he was a master of worldwide correlation of sedimentary rocks.

Early Life and Career. Teichert received his PhD in 1928 from Albertus Magnus University in Königsberg, having studied also in the universities of Munich and Freiberg. In later years he recalled that in high school a teacher directed his attention to Alfred Wegener’s book on continental drift, which initiated his interest in geology. This was an era of rampant inflation in Germany, such that any available money was spent first thing in the morning, for by afternoon it was worthless. Notwithstanding desperate poverty, Teichert was able to complete his thesis on Silurian-age rocks in Estonia. This became the first of his more than 325 publications. In December of the year he completed his degree, he married Gertrude Kaufmann, daughter of a physics professor at the university. Until her death in 1993, Trude was his constant companion, helpmate, and inspiration.

Teichert was an assistant at Freiburg from 1927 to 1929 and in 1930 received a Rockefeller Fellowship, which enabled him to come to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., where in 1930–1931 he honed his knowledge of early cephalopods. After that year abroad, he joined a Danish expedition to East Greenland, spending fifteen months there, including a winter, in 1931–1932. He was one of the few members of the expedition previously to have been on skis, though sketching while seated on a moving dogsled was a new experience.

In 1933 Teichert returned to a Germany under Nazi control. Because Trude was Jewish, Teichert was told by university authorities to divorce her. Rather than obeying, he and Trude left abruptly for Copenhagen in 1933. They arrived with no money and no prospects. Fortunately, he received a tiny stipend to study Greenland fossils, and they were able to survive in poverty for the next four years.

Research in Australia. Teichert started afresh on another continent in 1937. A Carnegie Foundation fellowship program paid the salary of displaced scholars for several years, enabling the University of Western Australia, in Perth, to employ him. He was virtually the only paleontologist in thousands of square miles of unstudied fossiliferous rock. One immediate result was a special paper of the Geological Society of America on a peculiar Permian fossil. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he and Trude were briefly interned; authorities offered them the opportunity to return to Germany as an exchange for Australians and seemed surprised when they refused. Later in the war, he investigated reefs at the behest of military officials. During 1940 and 1941 he was also a consultant to Caltex Oil, searching for favorable localities in western Australia.

Teichert moved eastward in Australia in 1945 to the position of assistant chief geologist of the Department of Mines in the state of Victoria. From 1947 to 1952 he was a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne. Teichert also did some consulting work for Standard Vacuum Oil. More significantly, he served as a consultant to the Australian Bureau of Mines, traveling widely to investigate sedimentary basins. During this period he examined rocks of every age as far back as Cambrian. Earlier, in 1949, Raymond C. Moore of the University of Kansas asked him to organize the Cephalopoda volume for the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology(1953–1981). A Fulbright Fellowship and a fifty-university lecture tour in 1951–1952 allowed him to meet many of the potential authors for portions of this volume.

In the American West. During 1952 Teichert moved to another continent, beginning work in December at the New Mexico School of Mines in Socorro. He investigated the rocks of the Devonian age in that state, and his manuscript on the subject was published by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Early in 1954 he formally joined the USGS to set up a laboratory at the Denver Federal Center to enhance the mission of the Fuels Branch. As an example of Teichert’s dedication and style, he toured, along with two others, branch facilities in sixteen states within six weeks and produced a sixty-two-page report outlining the scope and projects for the new laboratory. He found the time in 1958 to briefly slip back into German academia as a guest professor at the universities of Bonn, Freiberg, and Göttingen.

Program Work in Pakistan. The Denver laboratory was so successful that, in 1961, Teichert was asked to transfer to Quetta, Pakistan, where an Agency for International Development-USGS program was helping to expand the Geological Survey of Pakistan and develop a minerals and exploration program. The program in which he was involved included training on the outcrop through a detailed investigation of the Permian-Triassic boundary in the Salt Range. He led development of a National Stratigraphic Code for Pakistan. In turn, that led to stratigraphic correlations among the Central Treaty Organization countries of Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey.

Kansas and New York. At the end of the Pakistan assignment in 1964, Teichert once more returned to academia, this time as Regents’ Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas. In addition to academic duties, during this interval he edited seven volumes of the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. That effort necessitated visits to authors in Europe and South America.

In 1975, at age seventy, Teichert officially retired from the University of Kansas, though he taught there for another two years. During 1977 he moved to New York State to become an adjunct professor at the University of Rochester, where he continued his research for another eight years. As president of the International Palaeontological Association, he may have been the first western invertebrate paleontologist to visit the People’s Republic of China. In addition to the intangible benefits of this contact, a direct result was a significant monograph on Late Cambrian cephalopods.

His wife died in 1993, and in 1995 he moved to Arlington, Virginia, not far from the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., where he had studied six decades earlier. Although he rearranged his scientific library, failing health finally stilled his prolific pen.

Among his many honors were the David Syme Prize from the University of Melbourne (1950), the Raymond C. Moore Medal of the Society for Sedimentary Geology (1982), and the Paleontological Society Medal (1984). Eight different countries were represented among the nineteen scientific or cultural organizations with which he was associated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The manuscript of Curt Teichert’s autobiography is at the Paleontological Research Institute at Ithaca, New York. A list of Teichert publications may be found in C. E. Brett, Wolfgang Struve, and E. L. Yochelson, Curt Teichert Festschrift, Senckenbergiana Lethaea, vol. 69 (Frankfurt am Main, 1988).

WORKS BY TEICHERT

A New Ordovician Fauna from Washington Land, North Greenland. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, 1937.

Permian Crinoid Calceolispongia. New York: Geological Society of America, 1949.

Devonian Rocks and Paleogeography of Central Arizona. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1965.

With Claude Spinosa. Cretaceous and Tertiary Rhyncholites from the Western Atlantic Ocean and from Mississippi. Lawrence: University of Kansas Paleontological Institute, 1971.

OTHER SOURCES

Brett, C. E., Wolfgang Struve, and E. L. Yochelson. Curt Teichert Festschrift. Senckenbergiana Lethaea, vol. 69. Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1988.

Crick, Rex E., and George D. Stanley Jr. “Curt Teichert, May 8, 1905–May 10, 1996.” Journal of Paleontology 71, no. 4 (July 1997): 750–752.

Reinemund, J. A. “Memorial to Curt Teichert 1905–1996.” Geological Society of America, Memorials 28 (1997): 39–42.

Ellis Yochelson

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