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2009 Honorary Membership Award Winners

Oldrich Fejfar
Oldrich Fejfar
Photo courtesy of Oldrich Fejfar.

Oldrich Fejfar was born on January 8, 1931 at the district of Prague-Old Topn. In 1941 he attended the 8-year Prague Academic gymnasium, which taught humanities, Latin, Greek and natural sciences. After the closure of the Universities in 1939 by the German occupants, many professors became teachers at the Prague schools and many taught at the Academic gymnasium. Josef Kunsky, professor of physical geography at the Charles University and a geologist, awaked in some students—including Oldrich—a great interest in geosciences. After graduating from the gymnasium, he attended the Faculty of Natural Sciences (1949–1954) to study paleontology and geology under professors Radim Kettner, Josef Augusta and Zdenek Spinar; he passed the courses of zoology, botany and anthropology.

After graduating at the Charles in 1954, Oldrich joined the Czechoslovak Geological Survey, Department of Quaternary and Tertiary research, for nearly 35 years. A visit from the Hungarian paleontologist Professor Miklós Kretzoi at Prague formed an important focus for Oldrich's future research—the prospect of small mammals in terrestric deposits of the Cenozoic to contribute to the continental stratiography and biochronology. This basically influenced his studies, and finally forged a lasting contact with Professor Kretzoi.

Under his guidance, Oldrich started at two sites, the karstic filings/fissures of the Paleozoic limestones in Koneprusy and Ivanovce, and the volcanic locality Hajnácka with a unique mammal assemblage in lake deposits of a volcanic maar. The lucky discovery of small mammals (along with tapirs, two species of mastodons and red panda), and especially the arvicolids at Hajnácka, allowed him to determine the age of the early Villafranchian(Villányian) with paleomagnetic dating, a radiometric study of the volcanic rocks. In 1960, several records of mammals in deep drillings introduced a new focus on the early Miocene faunas in North Bohemian tectonic rift structure with brown coal seams exploited in several open pits. This produced a number of levels screened extensively to find small mammals. Later on, two other sites were exposed: one in the thermal deposits at Tuchorice and another older level of early Oligocene in volcanic deposits at Detan.

Meanwhile during 1968 the mild political situation of the Prague spring allowed Oldrich to accept the West German Grant of Alexander von Humboldt to attend for three years (1969-1971) the Maximilian University in Munich, the Unstitut for Paleontology and Historical Geology under professor Richard Dehm and Volker Fahlbusch. This enabled Oldrich to compare and describe his findings in the European collections and to contact all paleontological institutions in Europe. A meeting with Mary Dawson in Munich was later followed by her invitation to the Museum Specialist Program at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh in 1976—an occasion to learn field work in bedwater in Wyoming, and to visit nearly all paleontological institutions and colleagues in the US. The round trip to the US was enabled through the generous offer of an open air ticket by Charles Repenning, head of the Department of Stratigraphy at the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California, which initiated lasting cooperation in the branch of Plio/pleistocene biostratigraphy.

Oldrich participated in paleontological expeditions in: Cuba (1996), Ecuador (1882), Djebel Zelten in Lybia (1983, 1995) and in Mongolia and China (1996).

In 1989 the political changes allowed Oldrich to enter the Charles University as head of the Department of Paleontology; where he retired in 1996. In 1996 Oldrich was awarded the Silver Medal of the Charles University for his foreign contacts, and in 1998 he was elected for the Corresponding Member of the Senckenberg Research Institut in Frankfurt.