History of the Foundation

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Sherwood Washburn
Sherwood L. Washburn

The success of the first Viking Fund conferences led several physical anthro­pologists to hope that the idea of the supper-conferences might be expanded to meet the needs of their specialty. Developments in human genetics, in evo­lutionary theory, and in systematics made it apparent that traditional physical anthropology needed thorough revision. However, the relatively few individuals employed as physical anthropologists were extremely isolated, both from each other and from interested scientists in related disciplines. To meet this special condition, meetings of longer duration were needed to which all interested specialists in the country might come. The plan for a Summer Seminar to be held at the Viking Fund was presented to a supper-conference of physical anthro­pologists in the Fall of 1945. Fiom the beginning the idea received the most enthusiastic support of the profession, and the First Summer Seminar was held in 1946. To date there have been five Seminars, organized under the direction of DR. SHERWOOD L. WASHBURN. The aim has been, and will continue to be, to pro­mote understanding among physical anthropologists and others interested in human biology, to discuss the latest developments, and to learn the newest techniques.

To make the deliberations of the Seminar generally available and to bring together articles of particular importance, the Yearbook of Physical Anthro­pology was founded. The success of the Yearbook has been due largely to its editor, DR. G. W. LASKER, who has succeeded in bringing together a collection of papers which indicate the scope and trend of the science. Five volumes, total­ing over 1,200 pages, have appeared. The Yearbook's annual distribution is now nearly one thousand copies, to scholars and institutions around the world. The Yearbook has become an essential tool for anyone interested in physical anthropology.

Over a five year period, ninety-two papers and demonstrations have been presented at the Seminar and reproduced in whole or in part in the Yearbook. Attendance has averaged approximately ninety people at a Seminar, represent­ing some forty different departments and institutions. Participants have come from all over the United States, and guests of honor have been invited from abroad. Every effort has been made to invite all practicing physical anthro­pologists, regardless of differences in their scientific views. Graduate students have been welcomed and have shown the greatest enthusiasm for the oppor­tunity to see and hear experts from many institutions.

Yearbook of Anthropology Cover PageThe emphasis of the Seminar has changed from year to year. The first two years were devoted largely to a consideration of new theories of evolution and their implication for studies of fossil man, race, and constitution. The Third Seminar was oriented around the topic of human growth. PROFESSOR LE GROS CLARK from Oxford University spoke on the recently discovered fossil primates from East and South Africa. The Fourth Seminar was organized around two symposia. The first of these considered problems regarding African anthro­pology with DEAN ALEXANDER GALLOWAY, from Uganda, and PROFESSOR RAYMOND A. DART, from South Africa, as the guests of honor. Professor Dart brought actual fossils of the man-like apes, and the animated discussion of these remarkable finds marked the high point of all the Seminars. The second symposium of the Fourth Seminar concerned the American Indian. and the papers presented will appear in a volume entitled, Papers on the Physical Anthropology of the American Indian. The Fifth Seminar was devoted to con­sideration of new techniques. DR. KENNETH P. OAKLEY, guest of honor from the British Museum, presented results of the fluorine method of dating fossil bone, illustrating his points with consideration of the Galley Hill and Piltdown specimens. The way one new technique had upset a mountain of anthropologi­cal speculation brought home to all the necessity of better methods. Many other technical advances were demonstrated including cameras, photographic methods, casting, staining, mechanical analysis of bone, and the latest statistical devices.

Physical anthropologists continue to exhibit great interest' in the Seminar and the Yearbook. Naturally, disagreements among scholars continue, but the misunderstandings of five years ago seem largely gone. It is recognized that the areas of real disagreement are the critical points for future research. To resolve these questions by means of redoubled efforts, new techniques, and better understanding, the Viking Fund has been pleased to sponsor the Sum­mer Seminars in Physical Anthropology.

Excerpt from the 10th Anniversary Report, "The First Ten Years (1941-1951) as the Viking Fund, Inc."