The coming of age of Romanian (physical) anthropology. Part I

Given that my last months have been mostly research-driven, I have decided to share some of these results. The establishment of the Romanian anthropology is a fascinating process, following several lines of development- errecting and imagining buildings, drawing academic courses, gathering an osteological collection, photographing peasents or collecting archaeological specimens.

I have chosen to divide it in a series of posts: the first one will introduce the establishment of the institutional discipline in Bucharest, followed by a post on the anthropological collection, one on the anthropological discipline and the eugenics movement in the rest of Romania (in the interwar period), and the last on anatomical/anthropological anecdotes. The information presented has already been published in a couple of articles (Ion 2011, 2014).

One of (1), if not the first mentioning of an attempt of introducing, in a systematic manner, the “new science” of anthropology in Romania, is a letter from March 1st 1919, sent by the director of the Practical works and Descriptive anatomy Department at the Faculty of Medicine (University of Bucharest), Paul Petrini, to the Ministry of Education, Constantin Angelescu:

“There is at the Faculty of Medicine, attached to the laboratory of practical
works of descriptive anatomy, which I have the honour to lead, a Museum of
Anatomy with anatomical pieces, with the purpose of being consulted by students,
for studying various anatomical aspects, which can hardly be prepared […] during
the university year by them. [..] I deem useful and I ask you
Minister to take action so that this museum will be detached from the Anatomy
laboratory and declared independent on October 1st 1919, running as an independent
department. Once the Anatomy Museum is thus independent, it can grow by
focusing also on the sciences that are in close relation with anatomy, especially
with a new science, Anthropology, which would find a large area of investigation
in the rich and precious material which is offered by this museum”. (Petrini 1919 in Ion 2014)

Petrini had taken his inspiration from Germany and France, countries where anthropology was constituted in “laboratories, libraries and museums with such precious collections”, as well as in anthropological societies.

Before this moment, there have only been disparate efforts, where anthropological topics were part of larger anatomical, medical, or forensic studies (2). Petrini’s proposed set of measures contained the four pillars around which the Romanian effort was meant to grow: a dedicated building for the museum, equipped with laboratories and libraries and connected with the international efforts through a society of anthropology. For him, such an endeavour would be a “moral obligation”, especially given the historical context: a post WWI united Romania, where one could study the influences of the other ethnicities on Romanians, and the distances between populations (Petrini 1919).

This innitiative had no immediate consequences, but the interest in anthropology grew during the 1920s: in 1922 was inniated a course in anthropology for the third year students of the National Institute of Physical Education, and several scientists conducted studies on archaeological specimens or on living subjects- peasents, students or soldiers (see M.Turda 2012).

Professor Francisc I. Rainer Source:

In 1927, another professor would revive Petrini’s plan. Francisc Rainer (1874-1944), a physician, anatomist and anthropologists (3), at the time Director of the Institute of Anatomy and Embriology at the Faculty of Medicine, started his project of errecting a new building in the Faculty’s courtyard, one to accomodate the cadaver service and the anthropological collections he had gathered for 40 years.

The building of the Institute. Source: L’Oeuvre Scientifique de Fr. I. Rainer, IV, 1946, p. 51.

It had to pass 10 years before the situation of the construction work to the new building was brought to an end, and it was due to an international event. Romania was designated as the organizer of the XVIIth International Congress of Prehistoric Anthropology and Archaeology, which took place between 1st and 8th September 1937 (Sevastos 1946: 14). This event covered 5  directions of research: “morphological and functional anthropology; human paleontology, archeology, prehistory, heredity, eugenics and selection; criminal anthropology; ethnography, folklore, linguistics, history of religions” (Sevastos 1946: 14).

On June 20th the Institute of Anthropology was inaugurated in this same building. Its collection would comprise:

about 5000 skulls; 70 anthropology plaster casts; the collection of preparations for the development of the cranium stored in three small cabinets; the bone pathology collection (600 pieces);  30 anthropological instruments and apparatus.”

The layout of the building and the composition of the collection were an expression of Professor Rainer’s anthropological vision, and it is quite interesting to give away layer after layer in order to get a glimpse in his world. But more about this in the next post.

End of Part I.


(1) The information presented here has been published in: Ion A. 2014. Establishing Romanian anthropology: the foundation of the Institute of Anthropology “Francisc I. Rainer”. Annuaire Roumain d’Anthropologie 51 (open access).

(2) More about this in the next post.

(3) More about Francisc I. Rainer:


M. Sevastos 1946 (ed.). În amintirea profesorului Francisc J. Rainer. Bucureşti: Imprimeria Natională.

M. Turda 2012.  In search of racial types: soldiers and the anthropological mapping of theRomanian nation, 1914–44. Patterns of Prejudice


text by A. Ion


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