Tilly Edinger vs. the nazis.

Tilly Edinger (Photo,Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

“Tilly” Edinger was born on November 13, 1897 in Frankfurt, Germany. She was the youngest daughter of the eminent neurologist Ludwig Edinger and Dora Goldschmidt, a leading social advocate and activist. In 1914, her father became the first Chair of Neurology in Germany, at the newly founded University of Frankfurt. He encouraged her to take science courses at the Universities of Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and Munich. Her research at Frankfurt was directed by Fritz Drevermann, director of the Senckenberg Museum. After her graduation in 1921, Edinger worked as an assistant in the Geological Institute of Frankfurt University. In 1927, she was  named Curator of Fossil Vertebrates at the Senckenberg. At that time, she had no colleagues in vertebrate paleontology in Frankfurt with the exception of Drevermann. She described the positive and negative aspects of that environment in a letter addressed to A. S. Romer: “all fossil vertebrates [at the Senckenberg Museum] are entirely at my disposition: nobody else is interested in them . . . On the other hand, this means that I am almost autodidact”. 

Among her early projects were descriptions the endocranial casts of Mesozoic marine reptiles, pterosaurs and Archaeopteryx.  In 1929,  she published Die fossilen Gehirne (Fossil Brains), the book that established Edinger’s membership in the German and international paleontological communities. This work would serve as the major scientific support for her wartime immigration to the United States.

Senckenberg Naturmuseum (Senckenberg Museum of Natural History)

After the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, Chancellor Adolf Hitler became Führer of Germany. In the months following Hitler’s ascension to the power, the Nazis took control of all of the nation institutions. The universities were not excepted. Soon, Jewish professors were dismissed, arrested, or simply disappeared. At the time, Tilly Edinger was working  as curator of fossil vertebrates at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Frankfurt, so the influence of the new rules on her professional life was slower than on many other persons of Jewish descent because the Senckenberg was a private institution, and her position there was unsalaried. She continued working at the Museum thanks to protective actions of Rudolf Richter, the invertebrate paleontologist who had succeeded Drevermann at the Senckenberg.

Although urged by friends to leave the country, she chose to stay, as did their brother, Friedrich, who later (1942) became a victim of the Holocaust. But, on the night of 9–10 November 1938, her paleontological career in Germany ended.  Nearly 100 Jews were killed and thousands were imprisoned in the infamous “Kristallnacht” (Night of the Broken Glass). Decided to leave Germany as soon as possible, she wrote to her childhood classmate Lucie Jessner, a psychiatrist who had immigrated first to Switzerland in 1933 and then to the United States in early 1938. Jessner contacted the eminent Harvard paleontologist Alfred S. Romer (1884–1973), writing: “My friend—Dr. Tilly Edinger, paleontologist in Frankfurt am Main, Germany—wants me to ask you about different matters, very important for her. She believes you might know her name by several of her papers and you might be friendly enough to give me the opportunity to speak with you”

Interior of Berlin’s Fasanenstrasse Synagogue, opened in 1912, after it was set on fire during Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938

With the positive response from Romer, Edinger applied for an American visa at the American Consulate in Stuttgart on 1 August 1938. Forced to look for another, short-term solution, she contacted Philipp Schwartz, a former pathology professor at the University of Frankfurt who had established the Notgemeinschaft Deutscher Wissenschaftler im Ausland (Emergency Association of German Scientists in Exile), a society dedicated to helping scientific refugees from Nazi Germany. Waiting for a solution, she wrote to Rudolf Richter to thank him for his supportive testimonial. She shared her conviction that “One way (England) or the other (United States), fossil vertebrates will save me”. 

Thanks to her pioneering works and the contacts she made from a previous trip to London in 1926, Edinger emigrated to England in May 1939. She started working at the British Museum of Natural History, alternately translating texts and working on her own paleoneurological projects. She described her life in London as considerably freer than in Germany: “It sounds funny, to one who was ‘at home’ not allowed to enter even an open museum, or a cinema, or a café, to apply the word ‘restrictions’ anywhere in the beautifully free life I am leading here”

Tilly Edinger and colleagues at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Sitting left to right: Tilly Edinger, Harry B. Whittington, Ruth Norton, Alfred S. Romer, Nelda Wright, and Richard van Frank. Standing left to right: Arnold D. Lewis, Ernest E.Williams, Bryan Patterson, Stanley J. Olsen, and Donald Baird. (Photo: David Roberts, from Buchholtz, 2001)

In 1940, with the support of Alfred S. Romer, she moved to Massachusetts to take a position at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. By the early 1950s, she was not only the major contributor to the field of paleoneurology but also the mentor to a younger generation that was following in her footsteps. She received several honorary doctorates for her achievements, including Wellesley College (1950), the University of Giessen (1957), and the University of Frankfurt  (1964). She was elected president of SVP in 1963. Her last book: “Paleoneurology 1804-1966. An annotated bibliography”, was completed by several of her colleagues and is considered the necessary starting point for any project in paleoneurology.

 

References:

Buchholtz, Emily A.; Seyfarth, Ernst-August (August 2001), “The Study of “Fossil Brains”: Tilly Edinger (1897–1967) and the Beginnings of Paleoneurology”, Bioscience 51 (8)

Susan Turner, Cynthia V. Burek and Richard T. J. Moody, Forgotten women in an extinct saurian (man’s) world, Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2010, v. 343, p. 111-153

 

 

Tilly Edinger and the study of ‘fossil brains’.

 

Tilly Edinger (Photo,Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

Tilly Edinger (Photo,Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA)

Johanna Gabriele Ottilie “Tilly” Edinger was born on November 13, 1897 in Frankfurt, Germany. She was the youngest daughter of the eminent neurologist Ludwig Edinger and Dora Goldschmidt.

Edinger’s scientific interests led her to university studies in zoology and, later, in geology and paleontology. She studied at Universities of Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and Munich. In 1921, she received her Ph. D at the University of Frankfurt. When she was preparing her doctoral dissertation about the palate of the Mesozoic marine reptile Nothosaurus, Edinger encountered a skull with a natural brain cast. Her early research was mostly descriptive and she was influenced by the work of Louis Dollo and Friedrich von Huene.  After obtained her degree, she worked as a volunteer at the Geological-Paleontological Institute of the University of Frankfurt, and later as the section head in vertebrate paleontology at the Senckenberg Museum.

During her time at the Museum, she gathered references of several endocranial casts  treated as isolated curiosities  in earlier texts. Using stratigraphy and comparative anatomy, she organized them taxonomically and summarized the inferences that could be drawn from them. Later, in 1929,  she published Die fossilen Gehirne (Fossil Brains), the book that established Edinger’s membership in the German and international paleontological communities.

Endocranial cast (left) and brain of the living hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis used by Romer and Edinger (1942) to document the relationship between the endocranial cast and the soft tissue brain in a living amphibian.

Endocranial cast (left) and brain of the living hellbender Cryptobranchus alleganiensis used by Romer and Edinger (1942) to document the relationship between the endocranial cast and the soft tissue brain in a living amphibian.

When the Nazi Party reached the power in 1933, Edinger continued working at the Museum thanks to protective actions of Rudolf Richter, Director of the Senckenberg Museum, but after the events that followed the infamous “Kristallnacht” (Night of the Broken Glass), her paleontological career in Germany ended abruptly.

Thanks to her pioneering works and the contacts she made from a previous trip to London in 1926, Edinger emigrated to England in May 1939. She started working at the British Museum of Natural History, alternately translating texts and working on her own paleoneurological projects.

In 1940, with the support of Alfred S. Romer, she moved to Massachusetts to take a position at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. Shortly after, she was the first and only woman who attend the founding meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP).

Edinger’s series of horse brains, showing differences in size and external anatomy as well as order of stratigraphic occurrence (Edinger, 1948)

Edinger’s series of horse brains, showing differences in size and external anatomy as well as order of stratigraphic occurrence.

Her second seminal work was written in 1948: “Evolution of the Horse Brain”.  Her work suggested that both brain enlargement and superficially similar patterns of cortical sulcation (surficial folds and grooves) had arisen independently in different orders of mammals (Buchholtz, 2001). 

Her knowledge of neuroanatomy allowed her to extend the range of information recoverable from endocasts. Based on the enlarged optic lobes and cerebellum of Rhamphorhynchus specimens, Edinger was able to predict their sensory dominance of sight and the possession of flight capabilities in pterosaurs.

By the early 1950s, she was not only the major contributor to the field of paleoneurology but also the mentor to a younger generation that was following in her footsteps. She received several honorary doctorates for her achievements, including Wellesley College (1950), the University of Giessen (1957), and the University of Frankfurt  (1964). She was elected president of SVP in 1963.

Tilly Edinger and colleagues at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Sitting left to right: Tilly Edinger, Harry B. Whittington, Ruth Norton, Alfred S. Romer, Nelda Wright, and Richard van Frank. Standing left to right: Arnold D. Lewis, Ernest E.Williams, Bryan Patterson, Stanley J. Olsen, and Donald Baird. (Photo: David Roberts, from Buchholtz, 2001)

Tilly Edinger and colleagues at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Sitting left to right: Tilly Edinger, Harry B. Whittington, Ruth Norton, Alfred S. Romer, Nelda Wright, and Richard van Frank. Standing left to right: Arnold D. Lewis, Ernest E.Williams, Bryan Patterson, Stanley J. Olsen, and Donald Baird. (Photo: David Roberts, from Buchholtz, 2001)

Tilly Edinger died in 1967 as the result of a traffic accident. She had 69 years old.  Her last book: “Paleoneurology 1804-1966. An annotated bibliography”, was completed by several of her colleagues and is considered the necessary starting point for any project in paleoneurology

References:

Buchholtz, Emily A.; Seyfarth, Ernst-August (August 2001), “The Study of “Fossil Brains”: Tilly Edinger (1897–1967) and the Beginnings of Paleoneurology”, Bioscience 51 (8)
Susan Turner, Cynthia V. Burek and Richard T. J. Moody, Forgotten women in an extinct saurian (man’s) world, Geological Society, London, Special Publications 2010, v. 343, p. 111-153

Ernst Stromer and the lost Dinosaurs of Egypt.

 Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach. From Wikimedia Commons

Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach. From Wikimedia Commons

Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach was born in Germany on June 12, 1870. In 1893, he began to study geology and paleontology at the University of Munich and wrote his thesis about the geology of the German colonies in Africa, under the direction of Karl Alfred von Zittel.

He later became a vertebrate paleontologist at the Paläontologisches Museum in Munich and an expert on fossil fish and mammals. But I was not until 1901 that he travelled to Africa, more specifically to El Fayum, a fossiliferous location discovered by George August Schweinfurth, a German botanist. The place contains fossil mammals from the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. Supported by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften), he conducted a second expedition in 1902.

Bahariya Oasis.

Bahariya Oasis.

In 1910, E. Stromer went to his  third paleontological expedition to Egypt. He arrived to Alexandria on November 7. He was initially looking for early mammals and planned visit the area of Bahariya, in the Western Desert, which has sediments from the Cretaceous era. But an expedition to the Western Desert needed the permission by the English and French colonial authorities and of course the Egyptian authorities. Although diplomatic relations with Germany were rapidly deteriorating , Stromer managed to get the permissions.

He arrived to the Bahariya Oasis on January 11, 1911. After facing some difficulties during the journey, on January 17 he began to explore the area of Gebel el Dist, and at the bottom of the Bahariya Depression, Stromer found  the remains of four immense and entirely new dinosaurs ( Aegyptosaurus, Bahariasaurus, Carcharodontosaurus and Spinosaurus aegyptiacus), along with dozens of other unique specimens.

“Illustrations of the vertebrate “sail” bones of Spinosaurus that appeared in one of Stromer’s monographs. From Wikimedia Commons.

With the help of Richard Markgraf (1856-1916), Stromer excavated in three years numerous remains of dinosaurs, snakes, turtles, marine reptiles and crocodiles. Unfortunately, due to political tensions  before and after World War I, many of this fossils were damaged after being inspected by colonial authorities and not arrived to Munich until 1922. The shipping from El Cairo was paid by the Swiss paleontologist Bernhard Peyer (1885-1963), a former student and friend of Stromer.

The most famous of all Stromer’s discoveries was the Spinosaurus. This gigantic predator is estimated to have been about 50 to 57 feet (15 to 17 m) with unusually long spines on its back that probably formed a large, sail-like structure.

This is the only photographic proof of German researcher Ernst Stromer's discovery of Spinosaurus. Image from the Washington University in St. Louis

This is the only photographic proof of German researcher Ernst Stromer’s discovery of Spinosaurus. Image from the Washington University in St. Louis

During the World War II, Stromer tried to convince Karl Beurlen -a young nazi paleontologist who was in charge of the collection- that he had to move the fossils to a safer place, but he refused to do it. Finally, on April 24, 1944, a British Royal Air Force raid bombed the museum and incinerated its collections. Of course, that was not an isolated occurrence. Between 1940 and 1944, several dinosaur fossils were destroyed in World War II battles.

Stromer was an aristocrat (“Freiherr” in his name roughly equals “baron” in English) who refused to join the Nazi, but Stromer’s defiance cost him dearly: all of his sons were sent to the German army. Two of them died in combat and one was captured and imprisoned in the Soviet Union for several years.

In 2000, a new paleontological expedition went to Bahariya and recovered the first dinosaur’s remains since the time of Stromer and Markgraf. Among the new findings is the sauropod Paralititan stromeri (named in Stromer’s honor).

References:

Sanz, José Luis,  Cazadores de Dragones, Editorial Ariel, 2007

Holmes, Thom, Last of the Dinosaurs: The Cretaceous Period, Infobase Publishing, 2008.