Baron Nopcsa

Posted on October 10, 2010

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Doda (left) and Nopcsa

Ferenc Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás, a Hungarian baron born in 1877 in Szacsal, Transylvania (now part of Romania) when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, was passionate about two things: dinosaurs and Albania. His interest in paleontology began with his sister’s discovery of what turned out to be a new species of hadrosaur fossils on the family’s estate.

Baron Nopcsa, whose first scientific paper was published in 1899 when he was still a university student, went on to become an important minor figure within paleontology, serving as the head of the Hungarian Geological Institute for a time. But his flamboyant dress, aristocratic manner, arrogance and controversial theories caused many in the field to dismiss him. Nonetheless, he is considered the father of paleobiology, being the first to seriously study the physiology and behavior of dinosaurs. His theories on the development of birds, warm-blooded dinosaurs, sexual dimorphism in dinosaurs and insular dwarfism are all accepted science today.

In addition to his focus on paleontology, Baron Nopcsa became fascinated by Albania, and became involved in the early Albanian nationalist movement, even going so far as to put forth himself as possible king. He wrote numerous studies of the language, history, ethnology and law of Albania, and was the foremost expert of his day.

In 1933, Baron Nopcsa killed his longtime secretary and lover, Bayazid Doda and then himself, leaving behind a note describing a nervous breakdown and stating that he didn’t want to leave Doda behind sick and penniless.

Nopcsa has a page on Wikipedia, here and at glbtq.com, here. There is also a recent article about him on New Scientist, here.

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