From anatomy to palaeo-raciology: Two Neanderthal reconstructions at the NHMW 1924/25

Paul H. Lambers, Margit Berner, Katrin Kremmler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

In 1924 and 1925, anthropologist Egon von Eickstedt from the Natural History Museum of Vienna (NHMW), and Austrian/Hungarian artist Erna von Engel-Baiersdorf created two soft tissue reconstructions of the head of a Neanderthal, based on a cast of the skull from La Chapelleaux-Saints, discovered in 1908. Eickstedt was to become a leading racial scientist and representative of German interwar and Nazi anthropology. Engel-Baiersdorf established herself as a scientific sculptor, survived the Holocaust, and reinvented herself as an anthropologist in Canada. The two busts were the first hominin reconstructions at the NHMW and initiated the NHMW’s reconstruction workshop in the 1920s and 1930s. An original copy of the bust from 1924, which was recently rediscovered in the collection of the University Museum Utrecht, allows a detailed comparison with the 1925 bust in the NHMW collection in methodological terms: Eickstedt aimed at introducing a new method for facial reconstructions of fossil man, producing a ‘racial type’ or ‘racial portrait’, adopting and refining the reconstruction method developed by Kollmann & Büchly in 1898. A number of nineteenth and early twentieth century Western scientists discussed Neanderthals and modern Europeans in a triangular relationship with Indigenous peoples from German Pacific colonies. As we will show, the two early NHMW sculptures, as genuine products of German/Austrian interwar palaeo-raciology, combine theories and methods of ethnology, evolutionary and physical anthropology, and anatomy with artistic practices. Thus, they provide interesting new insights for current debates on the entanglements of German colonial history and the interwar/Nazi period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-64
Number of pages31
JournalAnnalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien, Serie A
Volume123
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2022

Keywords

  • Neanderthal
  • Egon von Eickstedt
  • Erna von Engel-Baiersdorf
  • facial reconstructions
  • interwar period
  • scientific racism
  • German raciology
  • colonialism
  • German Pacific colonies
  • sensitive collection
  • contentious heritage

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