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Marie Hammer – a brilliant, Danish Zoologist!

Marie Hammer by Ann-Louise Bergström

Another* forgotten and overlooked, brilliant female scientist from the 20th Century:

Marie Hammer (1907-2002) was a Danish zoologist, who – by her extensive collections and studies of microscopic tics named Oribatides and Collemboles – finally confirmed the theory of continental drift, formulated by Alfred Wegner in the early 20th century . The theory of continental drift was extremely controversial at that time, but Marie Hammer discovered the same insect species on five different continents (Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Oceania) and proved that they could not have been spread by water, air, animals nor humans. The only explanation for their dispersed distribution was that the continents had once been together in one great ancient supercontinent; Pangea.

Marie Hammer travelled to an extensive number of countries all over the world (often alone), where she collected samples that she brought home for analysis. She was the only female scientist ever to join the famous, Danish polar explorer Knud Rasmussen, on one of his expeditions to Greenland.

Although she was able to get some (sparse) funding for her travelling activity, she was never offered employment as researcher at any university – even though her extensive contributions were widely acknowledged by the scientific community. Her immensely great work of studying and classifying all the collected species, writing scientific articles and theses, was thus performed at home with her family (husband and four children) around her.

She is surprisingly unknown, searches on the internet do no reveal much about her, although she even wrote a book herself about her adventures. Being a biologist myself, I was very surprised that I – until recently – had never heard of her. I came across her by reading the brilliant book “Kvinden, der samlede verden” by Eva Tind.

Illustration by Ann-Louise Bergström, 2021.


* Also read my earlier post about Inge Lehmann.

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