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Ernst Haeckel’s Pedigree of Man, 1874

After completing his studies in medicine and biology, a restless Ernst Haeckel set off for Italy in 1859 to study art and marine biology. The diversity of life fascinated the 26-year-old Prussian, and in addition to painting landscapes, he spent the

By | August 1, 2011

Ernst Haeckel’s Pedigree of Man, 1874 Image Gallery

After completing his studies in medicine and biology, a restless Ernst Haeckel set off for Italy in 1859 to study art and marine biology. The diversity of life fascinated the 26-year-old Prussian, and in addition to painting landscapes, he spent the climactic months of his stay glued to his microscope observing and sketching radiolaria—protozoa encased in delicately ornate silica skeletons—that he collected off the Italian coast and sent back to Berlin. He was amazed by the diversity of their forms, which seemed to come in limitless, but sortable, varieties, and on returning from Italy set to work cataloging them. During this time of youthful soul-searching and vocation-finding, Haeckel stumbled upon a German translation of the recently published Origin of Species and experienced one of the most momentous revelations of his career.

In the fourth chapter of Charles Darwin’s treatise was a drawing that illustrated the evolution of a single hypothetical species into a genus of 8 species across 14,000 generations. Darwin’s tree-like image was not the first to show the interrelatedness of all the planet’s life forms, but nonetheless it set Haeckel on a mission: to craft real evolutionary trees that organized the overwhelming number of species on Earth. Over the years he created illustrations of many such trees, using his knowledge of morphology and his theory that the evolutionary past of an organism can be gleaned from its embryonic development. The first of these were published in his 1866 monograph Generelle Morphologie der Organismen. Through this work, Haeckel made some significant contributions to biology, such as the addition of a third kingdom—the unicellular protists—to the already existing plant and animal kingdoms. His trees were also the first to depict humans as branching off from the primate lineages.

But perhaps Haeckel’s best-known tree of life is his highly stylized Pedigree of Man, originally published in German in 1874, which places Man at the top of an old tree, above his evolutionary forebears. Although Haeckel’s trees broke new ground, many historians believe that he fell prey to the contemporary notion that evolution progresses towards a more perfect form, and that he never truly accepted the implications of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which does not hold that humans are the pinnacle of evolutionary perfection.

However, computational genomicist Mark Ragan of the University of Queensland, Australia begs to differ. “Haeckel is showing man as a part of the whole lineage of animals,” he says. While most trees start at the bottom, showing the routes of evolution from one basal single-celled species, Haeckel’s Pedigree starts at the top and traces the lineage of Man downward. It means to place humans in the context of evolutionary history, he adds, not to show us at the peak.

See full slideshow.[gallery]

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Comments

Avatar of: Thornjosie

Anonymous

August 17, 2011

Haeckel was a fraud. Quit giving the schmuck glory!  I am tired of finding his confessed fraudulent info in books.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 17, 2011

Haeckel was a fraud. Quit giving the schmuck glory!  I am tired of finding his confessed fraudulent info in books.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 17, 2011

Haeckel was a fraud. Quit giving the schmuck glory!  I am tired of finding his confessed fraudulent info in books.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 18, 2011

I couldn't agree more with Thornjosie.  Nothing is more frustrating than seeing known fraudulent material perpetuated for so many years.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 18, 2011

I couldn't agree more with Thornjosie.  Nothing is more frustrating than seeing known fraudulent material perpetuated for so many years.

Avatar of: Laura

Anonymous

August 18, 2011

I couldn't agree more with Thornjosie.  Nothing is more frustrating than seeing known fraudulent material perpetuated for so many years.

Avatar of: Davessis

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Fraud no.  That was never proved.  I don't agree with his science generally but he's definitely not a fraud. 

Avatar of: Asilva

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

Apparently HAeckel was not as wrong as Laura and Thornjosie are stating... see http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6... as a counter argument that he deliberatly misrepresented his drawnings.

Avatar of: Andrew Brower

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

It is hard to imagine how Mark Ragan can suggest that Haeckel's tree "starts at the top."  If the metaphor of an organic tree means anything, it means that the seed starts down at ground level and the tree grows up from there.  I suppose that he is imposing a population geneticist's idea about coalescence on Haeckel's diagram (coalescent diagrams are usually interpreted as starting at the present and going backwards in time to the most recent common ancestor).  It is not clear how such an approach is meaningful beyond the level of genes within populations or single species.

Even though Homo is at the top of the tree, however, as an angiosperm with multiple terminal meristems, the oak does not imply that any particular branch is more important or derived than any other.   All extant taxa have survived the same amount of time from the common ancestor at the root, and to that extent can be considered to be evolutionary equals.

As to the comments below, these seem to be referring not to Haeckel's phylogenetic trees, but to his drawings of comparative embryonic development of vertebrates.  While he may have taken some artistic license in the illustrations, the principle he was illustrating goes back to Von Baer in the early 19th Century, and has been borne out at the molecular level with the discovery of shared regulatory gene complexes that control the organization of the body plan not only among vertebrates, but also among bilaterian animals (including insects).  So the creationist naysayers should just stay on their flat earth with their imaginary friend and keep their ignorant opinions to themselves.

Avatar of: Laura

Anonymous

August 22, 2011

LOL Andrew!!!  Taking "artistic license" with your data is not accepted in science....haven't you noticed the growing number of problems with falsification of published work lately?  False data = ruined scientific reputation, even on a flat earth ;-) 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Fraud no.  That was never proved.  I don't agree with his science generally but he's definitely not a fraud. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Apparently HAeckel was not as wrong as Laura and Thornjosie are stating... see http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6... as a counter argument that he deliberatly misrepresented his drawnings.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

It is hard to imagine how Mark Ragan can suggest that Haeckel's tree "starts at the top."  If the metaphor of an organic tree means anything, it means that the seed starts down at ground level and the tree grows up from there.  I suppose that he is imposing a population geneticist's idea about coalescence on Haeckel's diagram (coalescent diagrams are usually interpreted as starting at the present and going backwards in time to the most recent common ancestor).  It is not clear how such an approach is meaningful beyond the level of genes within populations or single species.

Even though Homo is at the top of the tree, however, as an angiosperm with multiple terminal meristems, the oak does not imply that any particular branch is more important or derived than any other.   All extant taxa have survived the same amount of time from the common ancestor at the root, and to that extent can be considered to be evolutionary equals.

As to the comments below, these seem to be referring not to Haeckel's phylogenetic trees, but to his drawings of comparative embryonic development of vertebrates.  While he may have taken some artistic license in the illustrations, the principle he was illustrating goes back to Von Baer in the early 19th Century, and has been borne out at the molecular level with the discovery of shared regulatory gene complexes that control the organization of the body plan not only among vertebrates, but also among bilaterian animals (including insects).  So the creationist naysayers should just stay on their flat earth with their imaginary friend and keep their ignorant opinions to themselves.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

LOL Andrew!!!  Taking "artistic license" with your data is not accepted in science....haven't you noticed the growing number of problems with falsification of published work lately?  False data = ruined scientific reputation, even on a flat earth ;-) 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Fraud no.  That was never proved.  I don't agree with his science generally but he's definitely not a fraud. 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

Apparently HAeckel was not as wrong as Laura and Thornjosie are stating... see http://home.uchicago.edu/~rjr6... as a counter argument that he deliberatly misrepresented his drawnings.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

It is hard to imagine how Mark Ragan can suggest that Haeckel's tree "starts at the top."  If the metaphor of an organic tree means anything, it means that the seed starts down at ground level and the tree grows up from there.  I suppose that he is imposing a population geneticist's idea about coalescence on Haeckel's diagram (coalescent diagrams are usually interpreted as starting at the present and going backwards in time to the most recent common ancestor).  It is not clear how such an approach is meaningful beyond the level of genes within populations or single species.

Even though Homo is at the top of the tree, however, as an angiosperm with multiple terminal meristems, the oak does not imply that any particular branch is more important or derived than any other.   All extant taxa have survived the same amount of time from the common ancestor at the root, and to that extent can be considered to be evolutionary equals.

As to the comments below, these seem to be referring not to Haeckel's phylogenetic trees, but to his drawings of comparative embryonic development of vertebrates.  While he may have taken some artistic license in the illustrations, the principle he was illustrating goes back to Von Baer in the early 19th Century, and has been borne out at the molecular level with the discovery of shared regulatory gene complexes that control the organization of the body plan not only among vertebrates, but also among bilaterian animals (including insects).  So the creationist naysayers should just stay on their flat earth with their imaginary friend and keep their ignorant opinions to themselves.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 22, 2011

LOL Andrew!!!  Taking "artistic license" with your data is not accepted in science....haven't you noticed the growing number of problems with falsification of published work lately?  False data = ruined scientific reputation, even on a flat earth ;-) 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

We are talking about an artwork that was done in 1874 here (and, incidentally, NOT the subject of the Scientist's news item).  More importantly, the principle that Haeckel was illustrating is still valid (it is called von Baer's Law, and it states that the most general - taxonomically widespread - characteristics appear earliest in the course of embryonic development, and the features that are unique to less inclusive taxa appear progressively later).  Haeckel's illustration is not "falsification" of "data."  It is education by illumination of a (even by the 1860's) long-established empirical principle of developmental biology.  I think if you look at any biology textbook, or the cover of Science, Nature or The Scientist on a given week, you will likely encounter an artistic rendering of a molecule or a dinosaur that is heuristically valuable but has many details that are fantastic.  Do you think DNA really looks like a twisted rope ladder or something made out of tinker toys? 

I will give Laura credit for urging people to reject publications that contain a lot of obviously made up nonsense.  I can think of one popular one ...

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

August 23, 2011

We are talking about an artwork that was done in 1874 here (and, incidentally, NOT the subject of the Scientist's news item).  More importantly, the principle that Haeckel was illustrating is still valid (it is called von Baer's Law, and it states that the most general - taxonomically widespread - characteristics appear earliest in the course of embryonic development, and the features that are unique to less inclusive taxa appear progressively later).  Haeckel's illustration is not "falsification" of "data."  It is education by illumination of a (even by the 1860's) long-established empirical principle of developmental biology.  I think if you look at any biology textbook, or the cover of Science, Nature or The Scientist on a given week, you will likely encounter an artistic rendering of a molecule or a dinosaur that is heuristically valuable but has many details that are fantastic.  Do you think DNA really looks like a twisted rope ladder or something made out of tinker toys? 

I will give Laura credit for urging people to reject publications that contain a lot of obviously made up nonsense.  I can think of one popular one ...

Avatar of: Andrew Brower

Anonymous

August 23, 2011

We are talking about an artwork that was done in 1874 here (and, incidentally, NOT the subject of the Scientist's news item).  More importantly, the principle that Haeckel was illustrating is still valid (it is called von Baer's Law, and it states that the most general - taxonomically widespread - characteristics appear earliest in the course of embryonic development, and the features that are unique to less inclusive taxa appear progressively later).  Haeckel's illustration is not "falsification" of "data."  It is education by illumination of a (even by the 1860's) long-established empirical principle of developmental biology.  I think if you look at any biology textbook, or the cover of Science, Nature or The Scientist on a given week, you will likely encounter an artistic rendering of a molecule or a dinosaur that is heuristically valuable but has many details that are fantastic.  Do you think DNA really looks like a twisted rope ladder or something made out of tinker toys? 

I will give Laura credit for urging people to reject publications that contain a lot of obviously made up nonsense.  I can think of one popular one ...

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