The German anatomist and physical anthropologist Franz Weidenreich (1873-1948) made outstanding contributions in the areas of hematology and human evolution.
Franz Weidenreich the son of a merchant, was born on June 7, 1873, in Edenkoben in the Bavarian Palatinate. He studied medicine and biology for 6 years at the universities of Munich, Kiel, Berlin, and Strassburg, from the last of which he received a medical degree in 1899. After graduation he worked with Gustav Schwalbe at Strassburg and Paul Ehrlich at Frankfurt am Main. In 1904 he was appointed professor of anatomy at the University of Frankfurt. During his earlier academic life Weidenreich carried on researches chiefly in the field of hematology, and by 1914 he had published nearly 50 papers relating to that subject.
World War I brought an interruption to Weidenreich's academic career. Following the French occupation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1918, he lost his post at the University of Strassburg, and it was not until 1921, when he became professor of anatomy at the University of Heidelberg, that he returned to academic life. From that time on, his studies dealt chiefly with the skeleton, especially with its relation to human evolution, resulting in nearly 100 publications.
In 1935 Weidenreich was appointed visiting professor of anatomy at Peking Union Medical College and honorary director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory, Geological Survey of China. For the next 7 years he was engaged, together with Chinese colleagues and Father Teilhard de Chardin, in excavating and studying the fossil remains of Peking man, Sinanthropus pekinensis (Homo erectus pekinensis). This produced a series of famous papers and monographs by Weidenreich that are of truly unsurpassed excellence in the field of paleoanthropology. The original remains of Peking man mysteriously disappeared with the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. Notwithstanding, Weidenreich's superb casts and detailed descriptions of these important fossils have made the loss relatively unimportant.
In 1937 Weidenreich made a trip to java to visit the sites where Pithecanthropus erectus (Homo erectus erectus) and other human fossils had been discovered by G.H.R. von Koenigswald. They collaborated in producing several papers on fossil man.
In 1941 Weidenreich left China for the United States. For the remainder of his life this man of friendly and engaging personality was an honored guest of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he continued his studies of fossil man and other aspects of human evolution. Despite the soundness of his researches, some of his interpretations of the fossil evidence provoked wide discussion. He concluded, for example, that the immediate ancestors of man were giants, a theory that has been generally rejected.
Weidenreich was president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in 1944-1945 and was the first recipient of the Viking Fund Medal and Award in Physical Anthropology in 1946. He died on July 11, 1948.
Further Reading on Franz Weidenreich
A biographical account of Weidenreich appears in The Shorter Anthropological Papers of Franz Weidenreich, 1939-1948: A Memorial Volume (1949). Thomas K. Penniman, A Hundred years of Anthropology (1935; 3d ed. 1965), is recommended for general historical background.