Franz Weidenreich

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Franz Weidenreich
Born7 June 1873 (1873-06-07)
Edenkoben, Germany
DiedJuly 11, 1948(1948-07-11) (aged 75)
New York, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Strasbourg
AwardsViking Fund Medal (1946)
Scientific career
Physical anthropologist
InstitutionsUniversity of Heidelberg

Franz Weidenreich (7 June 1873 – 11 July 1948) was a Jewish German anatomist and physical anthropologist who studied evolution.

Life and career[edit]

Weidenreich studied at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Universität in Strasbourg where he earned a medical degree in 1899. From 1921 to 1924 he served as a Professor of anthropology at the University of Heidelberg and was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago in 1934. In 1935 he succeeded Canadian paleoanthropologist Davidson Black as honorary director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory of the Geological Survey of China. Weidenreich was among the scientists to claim that Piltdown Man was a "chimera", a composite between two unrelated species, long before fluoride analyses proved that Piltdown Man was a hoax.[1][2] Weidenreich also renamed Gigantopithecus blacki to Giganthropus blacki, based on a theory that primitive forms of man were much larger than the more recent ones. However, as this theory is contradictory to the Cope-Depéret rule (which states that in straight evolution lines of non-flying animals the size of species increases, not the other way round), it was rejected by Professor Dr. von Koenigswald when he returned from the Japanese concentration camp after the Second World War.

As honorary director of the Cenozoic Research Laboratory he also studied fossils of the Peking Man, then known as Sinanthropus pekinensis, unearthed at Zhoukoudian, China. Weidenreich originated the "Weidenreich Theory of Human Evolution" based on his examination of Peking Man. Being an anatomist, Weidenreich observed numerous anatomical characteristics that Peking Man had in common with modern Chinese, this led to his Polycentric evolution model of human origins.[3]

Peter H. Wyden, American journalist and writer, was one of his nephews and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden is a grandnephew.

Polycentric evolution[edit]

Weidenreich pioneered the Polycentric (multiregional) hypothesis, which proposed that human populations have evolved independently in the Old World from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens sapiens, while at the same time there was gene flow between the various populations.[4]

A vocal proponent of the Weidenreich Theory was Carleton Coon; however, Coon modified Weidenreich's Polycentric view of evolution, since he stressed far less on gene flow.[5]


  1. ^ Comments on the Piltdown Affair, E. A. Hooton, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 56, No. 2, Part 1 (Apr., 1954), pp. 287-289.
  2. ^ The Great Piltdown Hoax, William L. Straus, Science, New Series, Vol. 119, No. 3087 (Feb. 26, 1954), pp. 265-269.
  3. ^ Edwards, Sophie. "Analysis of Two Competing Theories on the Origin of Homo sapiens sapiens: Multiregional Theory vs. the Out of Africa 2 Model". Anthrojournal. Retrieved 20 December 2015.
  4. ^ The Origin of Races: Weidenreich's Opinion S. L. Washburn, American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 66, No. 5 (Oct., 1964), pp. 1165-1167.
  5. ^ Multiregional Evolution, R. B. Eckhardt, M. H. Wolpoff, A. G. Thorne, Science, New Series, Vol. 262, No. 5136 (Nov. 12, 1993), pp. 973-974.

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