S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Feistmantel, Dr Ottokar (geology, palaeobotany)

Born: 20 November 1848, Bohemia, Czech Republic.
Died: 10 February 1891, Place not known.

Ottokar Feistmantel, a Czech-Austrian geologist and palaeontologist, never visited South Africa and did not publish in this country, but made important contributions to the geology and palaeontology of Gondwanaland, including South Africa. He studied at the Universities of Prague (now Praha, Czech Republic) and Berlin and qualified as Doctor of Medicine in 1873. However, he was also active in geology and his earlier papers, published during 1870-1874, dealt mainly with the fossil plants and coal deposits of Bohemia. He was then employed in the Geological Survey of India, arriving in that country in 1875. He started publishing on the ages of the fossil floras of India in 1876 and first used the term Gondwana Series in print that year (the name had been coined in an unpublished report by Medlicott in 1872.) During the next 14 years he produced several papers and reports (some in English, others in German) dealing with the age of the flora of the Gondwana System in India, the geology and palaeontology of the coal-bearing beds of eastern Australia, and the correlation between these two. He also compared these strata with those of similar age in Africa and Tasmania, and described the glacial phenomena observed in them.

Feistmantel returned to Prague in 1883 and joined the staff of the Czech Polytechnic. While there he based two important papers on his study of South African plant fossils. The first was a preliminary report (in German) on the fossil plants of the Stormberg Series collected by Dr Adolf Schenck*, and was published in the Sitzungsberichte der Böhmischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften, Prague, in 1889 (pp. 375-377). He obtained further collections on loan from the Geological Society of London, as well as casts of A. Moulle's* plant fossils from the Kimberley shales, to extend his studies. The result was a second and more important paper, "Uebersichtliche Darstellung der geologish-palaeontologischen Verhältnisse Süd-Afrikas. 1 Theil. Die Karroo-formation und die dieselbe unterlagernden Schichten", published in the Abhandlungen of the same society (1888-1890, Vol. 7(3), pp. 1-89). In this paper he reviewed previous work on the Karoo strata and the systems underlying them, and described new fossil plants. He showed that the Beaufort beds were time-equivalents of the Damuda-Panchet strata of India, while the Stormberg beds, including the Molteno coal-bearing formation, were time equivalent to the Rajmahal strata of India. Unfortunately his work on the second part of his paper was cut short by his death. Nonetheless his paper remained the most important source on the Karoo strata and their fossil plants until after A.C. Seward* took up their study in the 1890s.

List of sources:
Corstorphine, G.S. The history of stratigraphical investigation in South Africa. Report of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, 1904, 145-181.

Hall, A.L. A bibliography of South African geology to the end of 1920. Pretoria: Geological Survey, Memoir No. 18, 1922.

MacRay, C. Life etched in stone: Fossils of South Africa. Johannesburg: Geological Society of South Africa, 1999.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Rogers, A.W. The pioneers in South African geology and their work. Transactions of the Geological Society of South Africa, 1937, Annexure to Vol. 39, pp. 1-139.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otokar_Feistmantel Retrieved 31 October 2016.

Compiled by: C. Plug