Life and Work

Hugo Obermaier was born on 29th of January 1877 as the son of the royal school inspector Anton Obermaier. After his schooling and his university studies in his hometown, he received ordination to priesthood in 1900. In the years 1901–1904 he studied the fields of prehistoric archaeology, physical geography, geology, palaeontology, ethnology, German philology and human anatomy. In 1904 he was awarded a doctorate on his work „Die Verbreitung des Menschen während des Eiszeitalters in Mitteleuropa“. After his postdoctoral lecture qualification in 1908 in Vienna, he became a private lecturer in Vienna in 1909 against the wishes of his teacher Penck. During that time, he travelled to several countries in Europe, where he became friends with several leading prehistoric archaeologists. In 1911 he became a professor at the newly founded Institut de Paléontologie Humaine in Paris.

He was surprised by the outbreak of World War I during a stay in Spain. As a German, he was not allowed to return to France. Obermaier stayed in Spain, where he worked at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, until he was called to the Universidad Central von Madrid in 1922. He was employed there until the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. He declined the call to the vacant professorship of Max Ebert in Berlin in 1933, because Berlin was too far from his second home in Spain, where he had become a citizen, and where he used to research. He also recognized the beginning of national-socialism.

In 1936, Obermaier was surprised by the beginning of the Spanish Civil War while he was staying in Oslo, where he officially represented his country at the Congrès International d’Archéologie Préhistorique et Protohistorique. Despite his friends' efforts to make him return to Madrid – especially the Count of Alba – Obermaier decided to apply to a professorship in Freiburg in Switzerland and not to return to Spain. His feeble health, his undecided retirement provision in Spain and the fact that his student, Martínez Santa Olalla, officially reclaimed the professorship in Madrid for himself, drove him to this decision.

Obermaier died after long illness on 12th of November in 1946 in the Salesianum of Freiburg. He was buried in Freiburg with all honours. He rested there until the administration closed his grave unnoticed by his colleagues. Since 1986, a commemorative plaque at the university building reminds visitors to this great academic.

The „Hugo Obermaier-Gesellschaft für Erforschung des Eiszeitalters und seiner Kulturen“ was founded on the 23th of June in 1951 at the University of Regensburg. It was founded by professor Lothar Zotz from Erlangen. The targets of the society are to advocate the Palaeolithic research and to form connections with foreign colleagues. Soon it came to mind, that the exclusive focus on Palaeolithic research would not be useful, and so in 1956 the society’s name was changed to “Hugo Obermaier-Gesellschaft für Erforschung des Eiszeitalters und der Steinzeit" to reflect continuous aspects from the Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic and Neolithic.