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Baron von Nopcsa (was Re: "Dinosaur Cowboy" film)

Rose Alexander wrote:

>>>>I think "The Adventures of Baron von Nopcsa" would
make a better
>(Though it would probably warrant a "PG" rating - or
even an "R".)


Baron Nopcsa was a pioneer in paleontology and paleobiology, who named many new fossil species, including around 10 dinosaur genera (most of which turned out to be invalid). He also attempted to reconstruct the behavior of extinct animals, including the hypothetical ancestors of birds. In a series of papers Nopcsa (1907, 1923, 1929) proposed that bird ancestors were ground-dwelling bipeds that flapped their feathered forelimbs to increase running speed. On the personal front, Nopcsa was rather (OK, very) egotistical and eccentric, and he met a tragic end by his own hand.

Wikipedia provides as good a summary as any of Nopcsa's life...

Franz Nopcsa von Felsõ-Szilvás

Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felsõ-Szilvás
(Also Ferenc Nopcsa, Nopcsa Ferenc and Franz Baron Nopcsa)

Baron Nopcsa (May 3rd, 1877 - April 25, 1933) was a Hungarian-born aristocrat, adventurer, scholar, and paleontologist. He is widely regarded as one of the founders of paleobiology and albanology.

Nopcsa was born to a long line of Hungarian aristocrats in 1877 in Transylvania, which at that time was a part of Austria-Hungary. In 1895 Nopcsa's younger sister Ilona discovered dinosaur bones from the family estate in Szentpéterfalva. This led to Nopcsa's enrolment to the University of Vienna to study the bones. He advanced quickly in his studies and gave his first lecture in the age of 22.

In addition to dinosaurs Nopcsa had another passion: Albania. He was one the few outsiders who ventured into the hostile and mountainous tribal areas in the North of the country. He learned local dialects and customs and eventually became to lead resistance against the Turks who occupied the region. He gave passionate speeches and smuggled in weapons. In 1912 the Balkan states joined forces to drive out the Turks. This was succesful, but the newly-liberated states were immediately plunged into internal conflicts. Out of these conflicts Albania appeared as an independent state. In an international conference aiming to clarify the status of Albania Nopcsa was a contender for the throne of that country, but eventually lost. [A colorless Prussian royal named Prince William of Wied got the gig as king of Albania; he lasted less than a year in the job. An Albanian co-worker eloquently described Prince William to me as a "piece of crap".]

In the First World War Nopcsa was a spy for Austria-Hungary and also led a group of Albanian volunteers. At the end of the war Transylvania was ceded to Romania and Nopcsa lost his estates and other possessions. He was forced to pick up a job and became the head of the Hungarian Geological Institute.

Nopcsa's tenure in the Geological Institute was short-lived. He moved to Vienna with his long-standing Albanian lover and secretary Bayazid Doda to study fossils. There he run into financial difficulties and was sidelined in his work. To cover his depts he had to sell his fossils to the Natural History Museum in London. Nopcsa became depressed and finally, in 1933, he shot first his lover and then himself.

Nopcsa left behind a considerable quantity of scientific publications and private diaries. The diaries paint a picture of a complex man with great intuition but inability to understand the motives of others. His devotion to the cause of the Albanians was a contrast to his insensitivity. He was driven, ambitious and occasionally arrogant. Nopcsa was also openly anti-semitic. The diaries only hint towards his homosexuality, which was well-known during his time.

In his diaries he wrote about his bid to the throne of Albania:

"Once a reigning European monarch, I would have no difficulty coming up with the further funds needed by marrying a wealthy American heiress aspiring to royalty, a step which under other circumstances I would have been loath to take."

Contribution to paleontology and geology
Nopcsa's main contribution to paleontology was that he was one of the first researchers who tried to "put flesh into bones". In the time when paleontologists where mainly interested in assembling bones he tried to deduce physiology and behavior of the dinosaurs he was studying. Nopcsa was the first to suggest that dinosaurs cared for their young and exhibited complex social behavior.

Another of Nopcsa's theories that was ahead of its time was that birds evolved from ground-dwelling cursorial dinosaurs that evolved feathers to run faster. This theory only found favour in the sixties. Only recently fossil finds have unearthed tree-living feathered dinosaurs, discrediting the theory. [As Mike said, this is not exactly true - TW] However, Nopcsa's view that at least some dinosaurs were warm-blooded is now shared with much of the scientific community.

Nopcsa studied Transylvanian dinosaurs intensively. They were smaller than their cousins elsewhere in the world, for example he unearthed six-meter long sauropods, a groups of dinosaurs which commonly grew to 30 meters or more. Nopcsa deduced that the area where the remains where found used to be an island, now called Hateg Island. Limited resources found on island commonly have an effect of reducing the size of animals over the generations. His theory is widely accepted even today.

Nopcsa was also a geologist. He was one of the first to study the geology of Western Balkans, especially tectonic structures.

Contribution to albanology
During his lifetime Nopcsa published more then fifty scientific studies concerning Albania. These included publications in wide-ranging areas, such as linguistics, folk lore, ethnology, history, and kanun, Albanian customary law. He was the leading expert of Albania in his time.

After Nopcsa's death several important manuscripts were left unpublished. The albanological part of his estate ended in the hand of professor Norbert Jokl, a renowned specialist in Albanian studies. The material consisted of thousands of pages of notes, sketches and finished text. Nopcsa's library came into possession of Mid'hat Bey Frashëri and, when Frashëri was forced to flee the country, was confiscated by the communist government of Enver Hoxha and eventually formed the core of the Albanological section of Albania's National Library.