Skip to main content Accessibility help

Inventing Homo gardarensis: Prestige, Pressure, and Human Evolution in Interwar Scandinavia

  • Peter C. Kjærgaard (a1)

In the 1920s there were still very few fossil human remains to support an evolutionary explanation of human origins. Nonetheless, evolution as an explanatory framework was widely accepted. This led to a search for ancestors in several continents with fierce international competition. With so little fossil evidence available and the idea of a Missing Link as a crucial piece of evidence in human evolution still intact, many actors participated in the scientific race to identify the human ancestor. The curious case of Homo gardarensis serves as an example of how personal ambitions and national pride were deeply interconnected as scientific concerns were sometimes slighted in interwar palaeoanthropology.

Hide All
Anon. (G–s). 1929a. “Et ‘moderne’ Urmenneske” [A ‘Modern’ First Human]. Berlingske Tidende, 6 June, p. 10.
Anon. (G–s). 1929b. Det ‘moderne’ Urmenneske” [The ‘Modern’ First Human]. Berlingske Tidende, 23 June, pp. 1, 5.
Anon. (Talib.). 1930. “Hvorledes opstod ‘det moderne Urmenneske’?” [How Did the ‘Modern First Human’ Originate?] Berlingske Tidende, 4 July, p. 10.
Anon. 1860. “Our Scandinavian Ancestors.” Good Words 1 (18):273278.
Anon. 1922. “A Prehistoric Columbus who Reached America by Land? An Artist's Vision of Hesperopithecus (The Ape-Man of the Western World) and Contemporary Animals.” The Illustrated London News, 24 June, p. 942–943.
Anon. 1928. “Hesperopithecus Dethroned: Only a Wild Pig.” The Times, 21 February, p. 16.
Anon. 1930a. “Gardarene Man: Sir Arthur Keith's Theory.” The Times, 6 May, p. 13.
Anon. 1930b. “Man of Gardar.” The Science News-Letter 18 (484).
Arsuaga, Juan Luis de. 2002. The Neanderthal's Necklace: In Search of the First Thinkers. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows.
Ballantyne, Tony. 2001. Orientalism, Racial Theory & British Colonialism: Aryanism in the British Empire. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Barth, Justus. 1896. Norrønaskaller: Crania antiqua in parte orientali Norvegiæ meridionalis inventa. Christiania (Today Oslo): A. W. Brøggers Bogtrykeri.
Bashford, Alison, and Levine, Philippa, eds. 2010. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics, Oxford Handbooks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bennike, Pia. 1997. “Denmark.” In History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, edited by Spencer, F.. New York: Garland Publishing.
Bennike, Pia, and Bonde, Niels. 1992. “Physical Anthropology and Human Evolution in Denmark and other Scandinavian Countries.” Human Evolution 7 (2):6984.
Berglund, Joel. 1986. “The Decline of the Norse Settlements in Greenland.” Arctic Anthropology 23 (1/2):109135.
Bergman, Gerald. 2006. “The History of Hesperopithecus: The Human-Ape Link that Turned Out to Be a Pig.” Rivista de biologia 99 (2):287305.
Beuermann, Ian. 2010. “‘Norgesveldet’ South of Cape Wrath? Political Views, Facts, and Questions.” In The Norwegian Domination and the Norse World c.1000-c.1400, edited by Imsen, S., 99123. Trondheim: Tapir Academic Press.
Björkman, Maria, and Widmalm, Sven. 2010. “Selling Eugenics: The Case of Sweden.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 64 (4):379400.
Bowler, Peter J. 1986. Theories of Human Evolution: A Century of Debate 1844–1944. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Bravo, Michael. 2002. “Measuring Danes and Eskimos.” In Narrating the Arctic: A Cultural History of Nordic Scientific Practices, edited by Bravo, Michael and Sörlin, Sverker, 235274. Canton: Science History Publications.
Broberg, Gunnar, and Roll-Hansen, Nils, eds. 2005. Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
Bröste, Kurt, Fischer-Møller, Knud, and Pedersen, Poul Overdrup. 1944. The Mediaeval Norsemen at Gardar. Anthropological Investigation. Vol. 89, Meddelelser om Grønland. Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels Forlag.
Bryn, Halfdan. 1926. “Die Menschenvarietäten Norwegens.” Anthropologischer Anzeiger 3:161186.
Cederlund, Carl Olof. 2011. “The Modern Myth of the Viking.” Journal of Maritime Archaeology 6 (1):535.
Checkel, Jeffrey T., and Katzenstein, Peter J., eds. 2009. European Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dawson, Charles, and Woodward, Arthur Smith. 1915. “On a Bone Implement from Piltdown (Sussex).” Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 71 (1–4):144149.
Day, Michael H. 1986. Guide to Fossil Man, 4th completely revised and enlarged edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Degerböl, Magnus. 1929. Animal Bones from the Norse Ruins at Gardar. Vol. 76, Meddelelser om Grønland. Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels Forlag.
Drivenes, Einar-Arne, Jølle, Harald Dag, and Zachariasson, Ketil. 2004. Norsk Polarhistorie. 3 vols. Oslo: Gyldendal.
Duedahl, Poul. 2006. “Det videnskabelige menneske” [The Scientific Human]. In Lys over landet: Dansk naturvidenskabs historie, edited by Kjærgaard, Peter C.. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.
Editorial. 1922. “The Oldest Fossil Man?” The Times, 20 May, p. 17.
Editorial. 1928. “Hesperopithecus.” The Times, 25 February.
Elliot Smith, Grafton. 1922a. “The Earliest Man? An American Discovery.” The Times, 20 May, p. 17.
Elliot Smith, Grafton. 1922b. “Hesperopithecus: The Ape-Man of the Western World.” Illustrated London News, 24 June, p. 944.
Elliot Smith, Grafton. 1931. “Human Palæontology.” Nature 127:963967.
Finlayson, Clive. 2009. The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fischer, Anders, and Kristiansen, Kristian, eds. 2002. The Neolithisation of Denmark: 150 Years of Debate. Sheffield: J. R. Collins.
Foley, Robert. 2001. “In the Shadow of the Modern Synthesis? Alternative Perspectives on the Last Fifty Years of Paleoanthropology.” Evolutionary Anthropology 10 (1):514.
Frängsmyr, Tore. 2000. Svensk idehistoria: bildning och vetenskap under tusen år [Swedish History of Ideas: Cultural Formation and Science over a Thousand Years]. 2 vols. Stockholm: Natur och kultur.
Frängsmyr, Tore. 2006. Pekingmänniskan: en historia utan slut [Peking Man: A Story without Ending]. Stockholm: Natur och kultur.
Fürst, Carl Magnus, and Hansen, Frederik C. C.. 1915. Crania Groenlandica: A Description of Greenland Eskimo Crania: With an Introduction on the Geography and History of Greenland. Copenhagen: Andr. Fred. Høst.
Gjerløff, Anne Katrine. 2004. “Abens ansigter: Palæoantropologiens historie og formidling i Danmark i det 20. Århundrede” [Faces of the Ape: The History and Dissemination of Palaeoanthropology in Twentieth-Century Denmark]. PhD diss., Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen.
Goodrum, Matthew R. 2009. “The History of Human Origins Research.” History of Science 47:337357.
Gräslund, Bo. 1987. The Birth of Prehistoric Chronology: Dating Methods and Dating Systems in Nineteenth-Century Scandinavian Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Graves-Brown-Paul, Siân Jones, and Gamble, Clive, eds. 1996. Cultural Identity and Archaology: The Construction of European Communities. London: Routledge.
Gregersen, Niels Henrik, and Kjærgaard, Peter C.. 2009. “Darwin and the Divine Experiment: Religious Responses to Darwin in Denmark 1859–1909. Studia Theologica: Nordic Journal of Theology 63 (2):140161.
Hansen, Frederik C. C. 1921. Identifikation og rekonstruktion af historiske personers udseende paa grundlag af skelettet [Identification and Reconstruction of How Historical People Looked Based on Their Skeletons]. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen.
Hansen, Frederik C. C. 1924. Anthropologia medico-historica Groenlandiæ antiquæ. I. Herjolfsnes, vol. 67. Meddelelser om Grønland. Copenhagen.
Hansen, Frederik C. C. 1931. “Homo gardarensis.” American-Scandinavian Review 19 (7):412420.
Herrmann, Richard K., Risse, Thomas, and Brewer, Marilynn B., eds. 2004. Transnational Identities: Becoming European in the EU. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Hjermitslev, Hans Henrik. 2011. “Protestant Responses to Darwinism in Denmark, 1859–1914.” Journal of the History of Ideas 72 (2):279303.
Holck, Per. 1997a. “Norway.” In History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, edited by Spencer, F., 753757. New York: Garland Publishing.
Holck, Per. 1997b. “Sweden.” In History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, edited by Spencer, F., 10051008. New York: Garland Publishing.
Holten, Birgitte, and Sterll, Michael. 2000. “The Danish Naturalist Peter Wilhelm Lund (1801–80): Research on Early Man in Minas Gerais.” Luso-Brazillian Review 37 (1):3345.
Huxley, Thomas Henry. 1863. Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature. London: Williams & Norgate.
Jahoda, Gustav. 2009. “Intra-European Racism in Nineteenth-Century Anthropology.” History and Anthropology 20:3756.
Jensen, Johannes V. 1910. “Dansk Natur.” Riget 1:112.
Jensen, Johannes V. 1923. Æstetik og udvikling [Aesthetics and Development]. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
Jensen, Johannes V. 1941. Vor oprindelse [Our Origin]. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
Jónsson, Finnur. 1929. Rune Inscriptions from Gardar. Vol. 76, Meddelelser om Grønland. Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels Forlag.
Jørgensen, Frederik. 1902. Anthropologiske undersøgelser fra Færøerne: anthropologia færoica [Anthropological Investigations from the Faroe Islands: Anthropologia Færoica]. Copenhagen: C.F. Rømer.
Keith, Arthur. 1930. “Recent Discoveries of Fossil Man.” Nature 125:935–942.
Keith, Arthur. 1931. New Discoveries Relating to the Antiquity of Man. London: Williams & Norgate.
Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2002. “Competing Allies: Professionalisation and the Hierarchy of Science in Victorian Britain.” Centaurus 44 (3–4):248288.
Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2006. “‘To the Benefit of Mankind, to Honour the Nation’: National Identity in an International World of Science.” In Perspectives on Scandinavian Science in the Early Twentieth Century, edited by Siegmund-Schulze, Reinhard and Sørensen, H. Kragh. Oslo: Novus Forlag.
Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2008. “A Small Country in an International World of Science.” In Science in Denmark: A Thousand-Year History, edited by Kragh, Helge, Kjærgaard, Peter. C., Nielsen, Henry, and Nielsen, Kristian H.. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.
Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2011a. “‘Hurrah for the Missing Link!’: A History of Apes, Ancestors and a Crucial Piece of Evidence.” Notes and Records of the Royal Society 65 (1):8398.
Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2011b. “Ida and Ardi: The Fossil Cover Girls of 2009.” Evolutionary Review 2:19.
Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2012a. “The Fossil Trade: Paying a Price for Human Origins.” Isis 103 (2):340355.
Kjærgaard, Peter C. 2012b. “The Missing Link Expeditions, or How the Peking Man Wasn't Found.” Endeavour 36 (2):97105.
Kjærgaard, Peter C., and Gregersen, Niels Henrik. 2006. “Darwinism Comes to Denmark: The Early Danish Reception of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.” Ideas in History 1:151175.
Kjærgaard, Peter C., Gregersen, Niels Henrik, and Hjermitslev, Hans Henrik. 2008. “Darwinizing the Danes, 1859–1909.” In The Reception of Charles Darwin in Europe, edited by Engels, Eve-Marie and Glick, Thomas. London: Continuum.
Koch, Lene. 1996. Racehygiejne i Danmark 1920–56 [Eugenics in Denmark 1920–56]. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
Koch, Lene. 2000. Tvangssterilisation i Danmark 1929–67 [Forced Sterilisation in Denmark 1929–67]. Copenhagen: Gyldendal.
Koerner, Lisbet. 1999. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Kohli, Martin. 2000. “The Battlegrounds of European Identity.” European Societies 2:113137.
Kragh, Helge, Kjærgaard, Peter C., Nielsen, Henry, and Nielsen, Kristian Hvidtfelt, eds. 2005–2006. Dansk naturvidenskabs historie [A History of Science in Denmark]. 4 vols. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.
Kragh, Helge, Kjærgaard, Peter C., Nielsen, Henry, and Nielsen, Kristian Hvidtfelt. 2008. Science in Denmark: A Thousand-Year History. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press.
Kristiansen, Kristian. 1981. “A Social History of Danish Archaeology (1805–1975).” In Towards a History of Archaeology, edited by Daniel, Glyn, 2039. London: Thames and Hudson.
Kristiansen, Kristian. 2011. “A Social History of Danish Archaeology” (Reprint with New Epilogue). In Comparative Archaeologies: A Sociological View of the Science of the Past, edited by Lozny, Ludomir R., 195220. New York: Springer. Page numbers?
Kyllingstad, Jon Røyne. 2004. Kortskaller og langskaller: Fysisk antropologi i Norge og striden om det nordiske herremennesket [Brachycephalics and Dolicocephalics: Physical Anthropology in Norway and the Battle over the Nordic Master Race]. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press/Spartacus Forlag.
Kyllingstad, Jon Røyne 2012. “Norwegian Physical Anthropology and the Idea of a Nordic Master Race.” Current Anthropology 53 (S5):S46S56.
Lankester, Edwin Ray. 1910. Monograph of the Okapi. London: The Trustees of the British Museum.
Lewin, Roger, and Foley, Robert. 2004. Principles of Human Evolution, 2nd ed.Oxford: Blackwell.
Lipphardt, Veronika. 2012. “Isolates and Crosses in Human Population Genetics: or A Contextualization of German Race Science.” Current Anthropology 53 (S5):S69S82.
Lipphardt, Veronika. 2013. “‘Europeans’ and ‘Whites’: Biomedical Knowledge about the ‘European Race’ in Early Twentieth Century Colonial Contexts.” In Imaginations of the European, edited by Middell, Matthias. Leipzig: Leipzig University Press.
Livingstone, David N. 1984. “Science and Society: Nathaniel S. Shaler and Racial Ideology.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 9 (2):181210.
Livingstone, David N. 2010. “Cultural Politics and the Racial Cartographics of Human Origins.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (2):204221.
Ljungström, Olof. 2003. Oscariansk antropologi: etnografi, förhistoria och rasforskning under sent 1800-tal [Oscarian Anthropology: Ethnography, Prehistory and the Science of Race in the Late Nineteenth Century]. Möklinta: Gidlunds Förlag.
Lynnerup, Niels. 2009. “The Human Skeletons from Herjólfsnes.” Journal of the North Atlantic 2 (2):1923.
Lynnerup, Niels, and Nørby, Søren. 2004. “The Greenland Norse: Bones, Graves, Computers, and DNA.” Polar Record 40:107111.
MacLeod, Norman. 1860. “Our Scandinavian Ancestors.” In Good Words for 1860, edited by MacLeod, Norman, 273277. London: Alexander Strahan & Co.
Marcussen, Martin, Risse, Thomas, Engelmann-Martin, Daniela, Knopf, Hans Joachim, and Roscher, Klaus. 1999. “Constructing Europe? The Evolution of French, British and German Nation State Identities.” Journal of European Public Policy 6:614633.
McCormick, John. 2010. Europeanism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McMahon, Richard. 2009. “Anthropological Race Psychology 1820–1945: A Common European System of Ethnic Identity Narratives.” Nations and Nationalism 15 (4):575596.
Moberg, Carl Axel. 1981. “From Artefacts to Timetables to Maps (To Mankind?): Regional Traditions in Archaeological Research in Scandinavia.” World Archaeology 13 (2):209221.
Neumann, Iver B. 1998. Uses of the Other: “The East” in European Identity Formation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Nørlund, Poul. 1928. “Nordboproblemer i Grønland” [Problems for Nordic People in Greenland]. Geografisk Tidsskrift 31:4661.
Nørlund, Poul. 1934. De gamle nordbobygder ved verdens ende: Skildringer fra Grønlands middelalder [The Old Nordic Villages by the End of the World: Tales from Medieval Greenland]. G.E.C. Gad. Copenhagen.
Nørlund, Poul. 1936. Viking Settlers in Greenland and Their Descendants During Five Hundred Years. London: Cambridge University Press.
Nørlund, Poul, and Roussell, Aage. 1929. Norse Ruins at Gardar. The Episcopal Seat of Mediaeval Greenland. Vol. 76, Meddelelser om Grønland. Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzels Forlag.
Rasmussen, Knud. 1929. “Eskimos and Stone-Age Peoples: A Suggestion of an International Investigation.” Geografisk Tidsskrift 32:201216.
Reader, John. 1988. Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man, 2nd ed.London: Penguin.
Retzius, Anders. 1843. “Om formen af nordboernes cranier” [On the Shape of Nordic Skulls]. Förhandlinger vid de Skandinaviska naturforskarnes möte 3:157201.
Retzius, Gustaf. 1889. Crania suecica antiqua. Beskrifning af svenska mennisko-kranier från stenåldern, bronsåldern och järnåldern jämte en blick på forskningen öfver de europeiska folkens ras-karaktärer [Crania Sueica Antiqua: Description of Swedish Human Skulls from the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, and a View on the Character of European Races]. Stockholm: Aftonbladet.
Retzius, Gustaf, and Fürst, Carl Magnus. 1902. Anthropologia suecica. Beiträge zur Anthropologie der Schweden nach den auf Veranstaltung der schwedischen Gesellschaft für Anthropologie und Geographie in den Jahren 1897 und 1898 ausgeführten Erhebungen ausgearbeitet und zusammengestellt. Stockholm: Aftonbladet.
Richards, Robert J. 2008. The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Richmond, Jesse. 2009. “Design and Dissent: Religion, Authority, and the Scientific Spirit of Robert Broom.” Isis 100 (3):485504.
Ripley, William Z. 1899. The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study. New York: D. Appleton and Company.
Roebroeks, Wil. 2001. “Hominid Behaviour and the Earliest Occupation of Europe: An Exploration.” Journal of Human Evolution 41 (5):437461.
Roebroeks, Wil, and van Kolfschoten, Thijs. 1995. The Earliest Occupation of Europe: Proceedings of the European Science Foundation Workshop at Tautavel (France), 1993. Leiden: University of Leiden.
Rowley-Conwy, Peter. 2007. From Genesis to Prehistory: The Archaeological Three Age System and Its Contested Reception in Denmark, Britain, and Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schmalzer, Sigrid. 2008. The People's Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Scott, Barbara G. 1996. “Archaeology and National Identity: The Norwegian Example.” Scandinavian Studies 68 (3):321342.
Selcer, Perrin. 2012. “Beyond the Cephalic Index: Negotiating Politics to Produce UNESCO's Scientific Statements on Race.” Current Anthropology 53 (S5):S173S184.
Smedley, Audrey. 1998. “‘Race’ and the Construction of Human Identity.” American Anthropologist 100 (3):690702.
Spencer, Frank. 1990. Piltdown: A Scientific Forgery. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Spencer, Frank. 1997. History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. 2 vols. New York: Garland Publishing.
Steensby, Hans Peder. 1908. “Racestudier i Danmark” [Studies of Race in Denmark]. Geografisk Tidsskrift 19:135145.
Steensby, Hans Peder. 1911. “Foreløbige betragtninger over Danmarks raceantropologi” [Preliminary Thoughts on Racial Anthropology in Denmark]. Meddelelser om Danmarks Antropologi 1:83148.
Stevenson, Beatrice Louise. 1916. Socio-Anthropometry: An Inter-Racial Critique, Human Personality Series. Boston: R.G. Badger.
Stringer, Chris. 2006. Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain. London: Penguin.
Tattersall, Ian. 2000. “Paleoanthropology: The Last Half-Century.” Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews 9 (1):216.
Tattersall, Ian, and Schwartz, Jeffrey H.. 2002. “Is Paleoanthropology Science? Naming New Fossils and Control of Access to Them.” The Anatomical Record 269 (6):239241.
Trigger, Bruce G. 1984. “Alternative Archaeologies: Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist.” Man 19 (3):355370.
Trigger, Bruce G. 2002. A History Of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Turda, Marius, and Weindling, Paul J., eds. 2007. Blood and Homeland: Eugenics and Racial Nationalism in Central and Southeast Europe 1900–1940. Budapest: Central European University Press.
Virchow, Rudolf. 1870. “Die altnordischen Schädel zu Kopenhagen.” Archiv für Anthropologie 4:5591.
Watkins, Rachel J. 2012. “Biohistorical Narratives of Racial Difference in the American Negro: Notes toward a Nuanced History of American Physical Anthropology.” Current Anthropology 53 (S5):S196S209.
Weidenreich, Franz. 1930. “Recent Discoveries of Fossil Man.” Naturwissenschaften 18 (46):955956.
Weinstein-Evron, Mina. 2009. Archaeology in the Archives: Unveiling the Natufian Culture of Mount Carmel, American School of Prehistoric Research Monograph Series. Boston: Brill.
Woodward, Arthur Smith. 1948. The Earliest Englishman. London: Watts & Co.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Science in Context
  • ISSN: 0269-8897
  • EISSN: 1474-0664
  • URL: /core/journals/science-in-context
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed