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Jindich Matiegka and the development of Czech physical anthropology.

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Institute of Anthropology, University of Ljubljana, and Laboratory
of Physiological Hygiene, University of Minnesota
Thin and discontinuous roots of Czech physical anthropology go
back to 1850 when J a n Evangelista Purkyn6, well known as a physiologist, assembled in Prague a collection of prehistoric as well as more
recent skulls. A study on “Human skulls in general and the Slavic
skulls in particular ’) was carried out by his assistant, Eduard GrBgr,
and published in an obscure Czech journal in 1858. From 1891
Lubor Niederle, the first docent of prehistorical archeology and anthropology a t the Czech TJniversity, concentrated his efforts on the
former field and it became the opportunity and life-long task of
JindFich Matieglia to develop the field of physical anthropology as
a n independent discipline concerned with man as a part of the living
nature. His scientific publications cover a span of half a century
from 1891, the date of his Crania bohemica, to the description of the
rich ossuary at the town of MElnik, published in 1941. This “royal
dowry town,’’ situated some 20 miles north of Prague, furnished
Matiegka not only with anthropological material but gave him also
a stimulating companion and untiring helper - his wife - as well
as his collaborator, immediate successor and biographer, J i I i Malf
(Jindiich Matiegka, Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts, Prague,
Matiegka was born on March 31, 1862, a t BeneLov (some 40 miles
south of Prague) and died a t MBlnik in 1941. H e got his M.D. in
Prague (1887) and for several years practiced medicine, mainly a t
MElnik and in Prague. It was in MElnik that he developed interest
in anthropology. He became unpaid docent of anthropology and
demography in 1897 but only from 1908, when appointed associate
professor, could he apply his energy and organizational ability wholly
to scientific work. Even then he was assigned only one room in the
Zoological Institute, and he had no assistants. It was not until 1918,
the year in which a n independent Czechoslovakia was created, that
he became - in his 56th year - full professor. I n 1924 he was able
to move into one of the largest institutes of physical anthropology
in Europe. H e had a full share of academic honors. For the year
1921-22 he was elected Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences
and for 1929-30 the Rector Illagnificus of Charles University. I n
1932 he became professor emeritus and retired to IElnik where he
worked with full energy until his death.
The bibliography of hlatiegka ’s publications consists of 280-ocld
items, not to mention several hundred short contributions and reviews,
published mostly in the journal L4~zthropologie(Prague), edited by
hlatiegka from 1923 to 1941. It is symbolic that with Matiegka’s
death, during the Nazi occupation of the “Frotectorate” of Bohemia
and Moravia, Anthropologie also perished. After World War I1 the
money set aside for the support of the journal was “frozen,” the
co-editor, &fa&, died in 1949, and the journal did not resume publication.
Matiegka’s professional interests covered a broad field. I n 1897
he published his pioneering studies on the development and health
of the Prague youth and on the menarche of Czech girls ; this concern
remained alive throughout his life. Another field of Matiegka’s
activities was the reconstruction and evaluation of the slreletal remains
of historical Czech personalities, such as 8t. Wenceslas, Czech kings
and their wives (1932), Hussite warrior Ziika, Comenius, etc. A
third important topic of his research was fossil hominids, especially
those found a t the renowned Pleistocene site of PPedmosti (HomopPedntostensis. I. Crania, 1934 ; 11. Other skeletal remains, 1938,
From the early beginnings of his scientific career Matiegka was
also interested in demography. For years he served as a medical
officer in the Health Departmeiit of the Iiingdom of Bohemia. This
provided material and stimulus for demographical studies. It may
be noted that the university department carried the title “ Institute
of Anthropology and Demography. ” His first docent, FrantiBek
NetuBil, a young demographer attached to the State Statistical Department, died in 1927 and the division of Demography remained undeveloped. Interestingly enough, one of Matiegka ’s last papers,
“Vital statistics of the members of the Czech Academy of Sciences
and Arts in Prague” (1941), was a demographic study.
Matiegka published most of his papers (and all books) in Czech,
frequently with comprehensive summaries in other languages ; but
some studies appeared also in English, French, and German. He
contributed several chapters to the volume entitled “L’6galit6 des
races enropi5ennes et les moyens de les am6liorer,” published by the
Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts (in Czech, 1934) and also by
A. A. Ill. Stols (in French, 1935, Bruselles). This was a prompt,
courageous, and positive reaction against the Nazi racism. I n 1921
he published in this Journal a stimulating paper dealing with partitioning of the human body in terms of its gross morphological components (muscles, bones, f a t ) , a proof of Matiegka’s modern viewpoint in physical anthropology of the living man.
It is impossible to cite all of Matiegka’s scientific publications.
However, a t least two books must be mentioned. I n 1927 he published
Tlie Sotiia,tology of Xchool Children, a unique, comprehensive source
book in this field. I n 1935 appeared his profound Philosophy of
Xmnatic Anthropology. This is the work of a mature scholar, written
after a lifetime of research in many fields of anthropology.
Matiegka sometimes preferred to speak of “somatic” anthropology
rather than physical anthropology. This terminology appears appropriate, a t least insofar as anthropology is concerned with the living
human organism. The term “physical anthropology” tended to be
identified in the past with the narrow osteometric pursuits and
abstract concern with body measurements without a n attempt to get
a t the individuality of the human organism and its relationship to
environmental factors, health, and the mode of life.
I n addition to his intensive original investigations and field studies,
Natiegka served as the editor of the journal Anthropologie, the
dnthropological Library (published by the Anthropological Institute), and of the monographic series Antliropologica (published by
the Czech Academy of Sciences and Arts). Also, he was creator of
the Hrdlic’ka M u s e u m of M a n , in Prague, one of the richest and best
institutions of this kind in Central Europe. All these activities
received a n important subsidy from a special fund created by Ale;
JIrdliCka, the well-known American anthropologist, in memory of
his wife, Marie.
HrclliEka had a profound and positive influence on Matiegka and
his school. Strangely enough, in one respect HrdliEka’s impact was
deleterious, almost disastrous. It was he, a n M.D., who obstinately
held the view that the physical anthropologist must have a medical
degree. AIatiegka, who also came to anthropology through medicine,
shared this view. Thus 1’.Suk, who later became professor of anthropology a t the Masaryk University in Brno, Moravia, had t o get a n
M.D. in order to be accepted into the fold although he had received
his Ph.D. under the eminent anthropologist R. Martin (then in Zurich).
Similarly, Ma19 in Prague had to study medicine as propedeutics to
physical anthropology. Even if one agrees that knowledge of human
anatomy is of great importance and that medical competence is vital
for some anthropological problems, nevertheless the demand for an
M.D. as a prerequisite for physical anthropology is excessive and
wasteful. Some 50 doctor’s degrees (D.Sc.) in anthropology were
granted by the department between the two World Wars; but this
degree was not enough to pursue academic career in this field.
I n Czechoslovakia, physical anthropology was offered in the Faculty
(College) of Natural Sciences. The students had little or no contact
with ethnology, archeology, and other disciplines concerned with man
as a social entity, as these lectures were offered in the Faculty of
Philosophy. Such a separation appears undesirable and artificial.
At present, familiarity with other natural sciences (such as geology
and paleontology) and, perhaps more importantly, with the social
sciences, is more crucial for a creative approach to anthropological
research than the training in clinical medicine. It should be recognized,
on the other hand, that Matiegka ’s direct contact with medical sciences
contributed notably to the strengthening of the quantitative point of
view in Czech anatomy where, under Borovansk$ in Prague, several
excellent studies were carried out (e.g., on age changes in the length
of the vertebral column, quantitative sexual differences in the human
skull and pelvis, and development of ossification centers in boys from
birth to 19 years).
Matiegka was a stiniulating teacher, with a warm, friendly relationship to his students; he almost always found a way to solve their
technical or personal problems. He was intensely interested in his
work when he used to show to one of us (B.b.) the steadily growing
collections, his blue eyes would reflect the joy he had experienced in
obtaining every new item for the Museum or for the library of the
I n the context of this note on the development of anthropology in
Czechoslovakia i t may be appropriate t o mention the late Professor
J. Nalj., born in 1898 at M & n k He decided in his high school
(gynanasiuna) years to become a physical ant,hropologist and after
he received his M.D., Mali became Rlatiegka’s first assistant. As a
young docent he joined HrdliEka in a field study in Alaska. On
Matiegka’s retirement in 1932 Ma19 became the chairman of the Prague
Anthropological Institute. After the Czech universities were closed
by the Nazis (November 17, 1939), Ma19 concerned himself, as a
legal consultant, with cases of doubtful paternity. Following the war
he again took charge of the Institute and the HrdliEka Museum. I n
July, 1949, he suddenly died of a heart attack in the midst of a university examination, without a successor of professional rank pri-
marily because of the strange non-recognition of t.he department’s
own doctor degrees.
With the passage of Matiegka and Malf, the center of the Czech
physical anthropology shifted to Brno where V. Suk for some 20
years had the chair of Anthropology in the Faculty of Natural Sciences of the Masaryk University. He was in a certain sense a modernist in the Czechoslovak anthropology, interested in physiological and
medico-anthropological problems. When after the war the Prague
journal Anthropologie did not start again, Suk was able to create a n
Anthropological Society in Brno and publish the Bulletin (Zprcivy),
covering the whole field of anthropological sciences in a comprehensive
meaning of the term. Unfortunately, Professor SUB reached the
retirement age about three years ago.
It came to our attention recently that Dr. Vojtgch Fetter, Malf’s
former assistant, was put in charge of the Department of Anthropology
in Prague.
(Matiegka’s works referring to the Cnited States or published in English)
1904 Uber Schiidel und Skelette von Santa Rosa ( S a n t a Barbara Archipel b.
California). Sitzungsbericlit konigl. bohm. Ges. Wissensch. Prag, No. 2.
1919 The origin and beginnings of Czechoslovak people. Annual Report of the
Smithsonian Institution, 471-486.
1920 Graphic representation of the inside of the skull with special reference t o
the pituitary fossa. Am. J. Phys. Anthrop., 3: 397402.
1921 The testing of physical efficiency. Am. J. Phys. Anthrop., 4 : 233-230.
1939 The skull of the fossil man “Brno 111” and the cast of its interior. Anthropologie (Prague), 7: 90-107.
1939 Bibliography of Dr. Ales HrdliPka, 1928-1938. Aiithropologie (Prague),
17: 9-12.
1939 (With J. VLK). (Identification of the cranial type of the North American
Negroes with South and West European types.) ( I n Czech.) Anthropologie (Prague), 17 : 305-322.
1940 Skeletal trunk indices. Am. J. Phys. Anthrop., 1 6 : 309-314.
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development, physical, matiegka, jindich, Anthropology, czech
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