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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
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.