In Czechs in History today we'll explore the life and work of Ales Hrdlicka, a world-famous anthropologist who settled in the United States but never forgot his native country.
As for his private life, Hrdlicka married his former student Marie Strickler-Dieudonne but their marriage ended tragically: Although Hrdlicka did well in the Middletown state asylum for the mentally ill, it was anthropology that finally won first place in his life: At that time, the first expeditions exploring America's Indian population had begun, a fact which - as dr. Prokopec says - played into young Hrdlicka's hands: After the first expedition he took part in expeditions organized by the Hydes - a very rich family from New York, that intensively supported research among the Indian tribes. Hrdlicka started to work diligently and his work bore its first fruit: Since the 1920s, Hrdlicka was considered one of the greatest scientists of his time. He worked hard, and wrote a number of scientific books and hundreds of reports on his findings. One of his theories was that the first people came to America from Siberia, crossing the then dry Bering Strait: Not alone - with a group of students, who helped him with digging, and one of them - a future famous archeologist - counted that the amount of soil which they moved during digging represented the work of four adult men working fully every day from dawn to dusk for at least a year, while they were able to work only from mid-May to September. Hrdlicka traveled and devoted himself to research until the age of 70.
Dr. Prokopec told me he visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, where most of Hrdlicka's findings were deposited, in 1992. He noticed that many human remains have been repatriated, given back to the Indian tribes to whom they originally belonged. Although dr. Prokopec saw it as a bitter end to Hrdlicka's labours, the loss has at least changed the old practice: at present, archeologists on Indian territories work together with teams of local people, who get the excavations back, after a thorough scientific analysis has been carried out.
Hrdlicka never forgot about his native country - he visited Czechoslovakia several times. In 1930 he donated a million crowns to a newly established museum at the Anthropological Institute of Charles University in Prague, and also 100,000 crowns to help develop his former school in his native town of Humpolec. He died in 1943. Czechoslovakia was then occupied by Nazi Germany, whose 'race laws' went counter to Hrdlicka's conviction that peoples of the world were all of the same origin.