History of the Department of Anthropology

The Hungarian National Museum had already obtained anthropological material, a skull from the collection of Miklós Jankovich, by the opening in 1847. In 1872, the Department of Ethnography, which preserved the skull collection, became an independent institution as the Museum of Ethnography.

A copperplate, illustrating the skull of Knight Bene (from Jankovic’s article, 1835)

In 1881, Aurél Török Ponori, the first anthropologist of Hungary (when he was appointed as the director of the fifth established Department of Anthropology of the world), advocated the idea to found an Anthropological Museum. Eventually, the ethnographer János Jankó, who was the director of the Museum of Ethnography at that time, laid the basics for the collection of the Department of Anthropology and determined its mission: „ the objectives of the Laboratory are to collect human remains of nations lived in the area of Hungary in the past, to reveal anthropological ancient history of our nation and also get to know the population of Hungary in the Holocene.” This mission is still our most important principle today.
The collection was enriched by valuable Ostyak, Papua New Guinean, African and Maya skulls and Egyptian mummies from János Jankó, Sámuel Fenichel, Pál Bornemisza, János Xántus and Fülöp Back.

A Papua New Guinean skull from the collection of Sámuel Fenichel (1868- 1894) Photo: Ildikó Pap

The Department of Anthropology, as the fifth scientific Department of the Hungarian Natural History Museum, was established on the recommendation of the director of the institution, András Tasnádi- Kabucska in 1945. A high school teacher, János Nemeskéri was appointed for its management. The proposal was approved on the 8th of June in 1945, by which the Department, that had already been operating since March of the same year, was officially founded.
Due to the destruction caused by the fire of 1956, the Department had to move to the History Museum for a couple of months. Later, it was placed in the Museum of Literature and stayed there until 1999 when it finally attained its actual place in the Ludoviceum.