Henry Fairfield Osborn

Henry Fairfield Osborn ( born August 8, 1857 in Fairfield (Connecticut ) † November 6, 1935 ) was an American geologist, paleontologist, and eugenicist. He was up to his death, one of the world's most influential anthropologists and paleoanthropologists.


Osborn was born in Fairfield (Connecticut), and studied at Princeton University. Between 1883 and 1890 he was Professor of Comparative Anatomy. In 1891 he got those offered by Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History site and became a professor of biology at Columbia University. From 1896 then Professor of Zoology. In the museum, he followed after 1908 Morris Ketchum Jesup as president. His term lasted here until 1933. His son, the biologist Henry Fairfield Osborn, Jr., ( 1887-1969 ) was temporarily President of the New York Zoological Society (now the Wildlife Conservation Society ) and author of the bestselling book Our Plundered Planet (1948 ).

Research Topics

Osborn described and named some of the most famous dinosaurs, including Ornitholestes (1903), Tyrannosaurus rex (1905 ), Pentaceratops (1923 ), and Velociraptor ( 1924).

The two-volume work Proboscidea: A Monograph of the Discovery, Evolution, Migration and Extinction of the Mastodonts and Elephants of the World (1936 ), in which he represented the fossil record and evolution of the then known mammoths ( Proboscidea, elephants and relatives) applies today as his most famous work.

Although Osborn was basically an energetic proponent of the theory of evolution, he sat against the view expressed by Charles Darwin derivation of man from chimp -like ancestors his theory of Dawn -Man ( " People of the Dawn " or " early - man "). In contrast to Darwin's " Ape -Man " is this Dawn -Man have been very similar from the beginning to the now - people. Roger Lewin described this approach as " enigmatic " ( mystery ), "because even if one goes back eons, the appearance of the Dawn -Man always remains surprisingly modern. What more primitive form of the Dawn -Man preceded it, was never clearly described. It seems as if Osborn never wanted to admit that a primitive, ape- like creatures was a direct ancestor of the early real people. "

Osborn's numerous publications on the phylogeny of man are therefore only of the history of science importance as it to a large extent based his hypotheses on the fake Piltdown man. He also expressed the view that modern humans have (Homo sapiens) evolved in Asia. He argued that the early ancestors of humans lived in open country and continues developed there, as you can see on the " backwardness " of the recent, living in the forests indigenous peoples that this does not contribute to the development. He also claimed that the human brain is such a complex organ that its formation had lasted at least 30 million years. This - then majority appeal in professional circles - misjudgment had of the consequences is that he in his 1927 published work Man Rises to Parnassus: Critical Epochs in the Prehistory of Man the discovery of the child from Taung described in Nature in January 1925 ( the first discovered specimen of a Australopithecus africanus) with no word mentioned: A " only" two million year old human ancestor would, according to his view must already have a much larger brain. Numerous other paleoanthropologists, who had made ​​his world view as its own, refused for decades to recognize Africa as a continent of origin of modern humans.


In 1918 he was honored by the Royal Society with the Darwin Medal; In 1926 he was elected as a member ( "Fellow" ) into the science society. Since 1910 he was a corresponding member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. In 1912 he was made an honorary member of the Paleontological Society.

After Osborn named taxa

Samuel Wendell Williston named the plesiosaur Dolichorhynchops osborni and Robert Wilson Shufeldt junior fossil species Creccoides osbornii in honor of Henry Fairfield Osborn.


  • The Origin and Evolution of Life on the Theory of Action, Reaction and Interaction of Energy. 1917 ( full text ) published in German under the title: The origin and development of life, presented on the basis of a theory of action, reaction and intermediate effect of the energy. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart, 1930
  • Man Rises to Parnassus: Critical Epochs in the Prehistory of Man. 1927 full-text
  • Proboscidea: A Monograph of the Discovery, Evolution, Migration and Extinction of the Mastodonts and Elephants of the World. 1936