Felix von Luschan

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The skin color chart of Felix von Luschan

Felix Ritter[1] von Luschan (11 August 1854 – 7 February 1924) was an Austrian doctor, anthropologist, explorer, archaeologist and ethnographer.


He was born the son of a lawyer in Hollabrunn in Lower Austria and attended the Akademisches Gymnasium in Vienna, whereafter he studied medicine at the Vienna University and anthropology in Paris, with an emphasis on craniometry. After he gained his doctorate in 1878, he was an army doctor in Austro-Hungarian occupied Bosnia and, together with the British archaeologist Arthur Evans, travelled through Dalmatia, Montenegro and Albania. From 1880 he worked as a medical assistant at the Vienna General Hospital and a lecturer (Privatdozent) at the Vienna University in 1882. In 1885 he married Emma von Hochstetter, daughter of the German geologist Ferdinand von Hochstetter, a close friend of his father.

Völkerkundemuseum Berlin, about 1900

On 1 January 1886 von Luschan took up his position as an assistant of Director Adolf Bastian at the Königliches Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin (the present-day Ethnological Museum), where upon Bastian's death in 1905 he became Director of the Africa and Oceania Department. In this capacity he acquired one of the most important collections of Benin antiquities, ivory carvings and bronze figures he published in his multivolume opus magnum.

He started his academic career in 1888, in 1904 was appointed Reader and in 1909 gave up his profession at the Völkerkundemuseum when he was appointed tenured professor at the Berlin Charité medical school and in 1911 holder of the first chair of anthropology at Berlin's Frederick William University (now Humboldt University of Berlin). He is also remembered for creating the von Luschan's chromatic scale for classifying skin colour, which consisted of 36 opaque glass tiles which were compared to the subject's skin.

Though Luschan had joined the German Society for Racial Hygiene in 1908, in his works he rejected the rising ideas of "scientific racism" and stressed the equality of the human races. He died in Berlin at the age of 69 and is buried at his summer residence in Millstatt, Austria.


At the beginning of his career in 1881 von Luschan explored together with Otto Benndorf the ancient Lycia region in southern Anatolia, where they excavated the heroon of Gölbaşı-Trysa near Myra, which is now on display at the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum. The next year he joined Karol Lanckoroński and Alfred Biliotti on an expedition to Pamphylia and Rhodes.

In February 1883 he accompanied Carl Humann on an expedition to Nemrut Dağ in historic Commagene, initiated by the Prussian Academy of Sciences. At Zincirli he discovered the ruins of Sam'al, capital of a small principality of the late Hittite period, which he later excavated between 1888 and 1902 together with Robert Koldewey. The plants he collected in the Ottoman Empire were later published by Otto Stapf.

All expeditions had profited from von Luschan's medical training. In 1905 he and his wife Emma travelled to South Africa on invitation of the British Science Association and in 1913 to Australia, where the couple received the message of the outbreak of World War I in Europe and had to proceed to the United States.

Selected works[edit]

  • Beiträge zur Völkerkunde der deutschen Schutzgebiete (Reimer, Berlin 1897)
  • Anthropologie, Ethnographie und Urgeschichte (3rd edition, Jänecke, Hannover 1905)
  • Die Altertümer von Benin (1919)
  • Völker, Rassen, Sprachen (Deutsche Buch-Gemeinschaft, Berlin 1927)


  1. ^ Regarding personal names: Ritter was a title, before 1919, but now is regarded as part of the surname. It is translated as Knight. Before the August 1919 abolition of nobility as a separate estate, titles preceded the full name when given (Prinz Otto von Bismarck). After 1919, these titles, along with any nobiliary prefix (von, zu, etc.), could be used, but were regarded as part of the surname, and thus came after a first name (Otto Prinz von Bismarck). There is no equivalent feminine form.


  • Furtwängler, Andreas E.:Luschan, Felix von. In NDB, vol 15. (Historische Kommission bei der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987, ISBN 3-428-00196-6
  • Knoll, Liselotte: Felix von Luschan. Ergänzungen und Beiträge zu biographischen Daten eines Pioniers der Ethnologie (Thesis, University of Vienna 2004)
  • Stelzig, Christine: Felix von Luschan. Ein kunstsinniger Manager am Königlichen Museum für Völkerkunde zu Berlin. In „... Macht und Anteil an der Weltherrschaft.“ Berlin und der deutsche Kolonialismus (eds Ulrich van der Heyden, Joachim Zeller; Unrast, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-89771-024-2)
  • Zeller, Adelheid: Felix von Luschan. Seine Bedeutung für die Beninforschung. Ein Beitrag zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte (Thesis, University of Vienna 2004)

External links[edit]

This article incorporates information from the German Wikipedia.