Pioneers of Physical Anthropology

Carl Oscar Eugen Arbo

Norwegian military physician (1837-1906) from Drammen. Arbo received foreign education in eye medicine in 1866, and for the first time discovered Anthropology. He was stationed as a military surgeon with Christiansandske Brigade in 1868, and consequently transferred to Arméens Hovedstation from 1870 onward. At the time he was also appointed physician of the Norwegian Company of the Guard in Stockholm.

While much of the anthropological research of the time was practised by scientists with no real initiation into Physical Anthropology, Arbo was fully educated in the field. He published his first treatise in 1878, entitled "Om Sessions-Undersøgelsernes og Rekruteringsstatistikens Betydning for Videnskaben og Staten" ("On the Significance of the Session Measurings and the Statistics for Recruits for Science and the State"), and made comments the following year on the discovery of a Stone Age skull in Hurum. In 1879 he travelled to Paris, where he became a student of Broca at the Ecole d'Anthropologique. He would later employ the French language in many of his works, whereas most of his colleagues accepted German as the tongue of Science and of Anthropology.

Arbo returned to Norway in 1884, where he published his research on the craniometry of Valdres and Hallingdal, the first in a series of seven publications describing the Norwegian population south of Trondheim, as well as the peoples of Sweden and the Faroes.

Quite possibly, Arbo's greatest concern was with the manner in which Norway had originally been peopled. He comments on the racial differences between the coastal and inland populations, and on the "racial superiority" of the latter, who were more dolichocephalic a type than the islanders. His studies of the coastal people led to the publication in 1906 of what is certainly his most recognized piece of work, "Den blonde brachycephal og dens sandsynlige utbredningsfelt" ("The Blond Brachycephal and its Probable Area of Distribution"). His discovery in southwestern Norway of a colony of what was later to be known as the Borreby type sparked a series of investigations by later anthropologists, among them C. F. Larsen and K. E. Schreiner.

From the 1880's onwards, Arbo came to be recognized as the most distinguished anthropologist in Norway, among the most distinguished in Scandinavia. Although he never received a degree in Medicine in Christiania, he was initiated into the Christiania Videskabsselskab (the Scientific Society of Christiania) in 1885. He was knighted in 1895 by the Order of St. Olav, and in 1900 he was appointed Physician of Honor at the University of Lund. He continued his anthropological research until his death in 1906.