History of the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology in Vienna

Foto Rudolph Pöch

History of the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology in Vienna

In 1919 Rudolf PÖCH founded the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography.

PÖCH's famous expeditions to Australia, New Guinea and South Africa enriched both scientific disciplines enormously and in 1927 two new institutes followed: The Anthropological Institute and the Institute for Ethnology. The Anthropological Institute was renamed in 1972 by Emil BREITINGER, the former director, to the Institute for Human Biology. Util the year 2005 the institute's name was Institute for Anthropology and belonged to the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Vienna. Since 2005 the Universtity of Vienna changed its internal structures, and the institute was renamed to Department of Evolutionary Anthropology.

The department is the only one in Austria, but nevertheless traditionally there are narrow and intensive cooperations in education and research with institutes all over Austria. Physical anthropology has always been an interdisciplinary science, including first of all medical sciences. In the late 20's and early 30's the Viennese school of morphology was developed by Josef and Margarete WENINGER. Unfortunately, this was simultaneously the beginning of the involvement of physical anthropology in the ideology and practice of National Socialism (SEIDLER & RETT, 1988). After 1945, the first director was Josef WENINGER, who continued with his wife Margarete WENINGER the classical tradition of morphology. After WENINGER's retirement in 1955 the chair of the Viennese institute was offered to Emil BREITINGER. He accomplished two important innovations: On one hand he started the methodological biostatistic orientation, on the other hand, he gave the impulse for the other focal point of research: Questions concerning evolution of hominids (BREITINGER, 1955).

The development of physical anthropology in Austria was continued by three of BREITINGER's students: Gertrud HAUSER (Institute of Histology, Faculty of Medical Sciences), Johann SZILVASSY (who has been head of the Anthropological Department, Museum of Natural History, Vienna) and Horst SEIDLER (Head of the Department of Anthropology from 1980 to 2013).

Currently the department features ten workgroups and runs its own master curriculum.