S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Suk, Prof Vojtech (physical anthropology)

Born: 1879, Prague, Czech Republic.
Died: 1967, Brno, Czech Republic.

Vojtech Suk, Czech scientist and physician, studied anthropology and ethnology first at Charles University in Prague and later in Zurich under Rudolph Martin and in Bologna under Fabio Frasseto. He obtained his PhD in anthropology from the University of Zurich in 1910. After the First World War (1914-1918) Suk returned to Prague, where in 1920 he obtained his MD from Charles University and then taught anthropology there. He soon moved to the newly established Masaryk University in Brno where he was appointed professor of anthropology. Suk conducted fieldwork in Italy, Croatia, South Africa, Canada and the Ukraine. He became an ardent critic of racism and particularly the racial policy of Nazi Germany, which put him in danger during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia. He played a major role in the development of biological anthropology in his native country.

In 1913 Suk was commissioned by Ales Hrdlicka of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. to conduct research on South African populations. He collected data on the local populations in Natal and the Kalahari Desert. His research resulted in two papers entitled "Eruption and decay of permanent teeth in Whites and Negroes with comparative remarks on other races" and "Anthropological and physiological observations on the Negroes of Natal and Zululand", both published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, in 1919 (Vol. 2, pp. 351-388) and 1927 (Vol. 10, pp. 31-64) respectively. Suk's visit to South Africa had an unhappy ending. In 1914, just as he was finishing his work, the First World War broke out. As a citizen of an enemy country of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Suk was interned in a detention camp near Nairobi where he was held in custody until the end of the war.

List of sources:
Dokledal, M. Suk, Vojtech (1879-1967), In: Spencer, F. (ed.) History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia, (pp. 1001-1002). New York & London: Garland, 1997.

Prokopec, M. Biological anthropology in Czechoslovakia: An historical outline. International Association of Human Biologists: Occasional Papers, 1991, Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 1-54.

Tobias, P.V. History of physical anthropology in southern Africa. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 1985, Vol. 28, pp. 1-52.

Compiled by: G. Strkalj