Obituary: Arthur Aufderheide pioneered health studies of ancient civilizations

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 19, 2013 - 9:59 PM

 

Dr. Arthur Aufderheide, a Duluth pathologist who pioneered the study of diseases in ancient civilizations, died Aug. 9 at Solvay Hospice House in Duluth. He was 90.

Aufderheide’s curiosity about the world drove him to varied pursuits, from his rare collection of tissue samples from mummies around the world, to his wintertime stays in Inuit villages above the Arctic Circle, to his mentorship of students as a professor and dean of pathology at the University of Minnesota Duluth Medical School.

Not only did his work have a global impact and result in four textbooks and hundreds of journal articles, but it also influenced the many medical students who passed through UMD during his four decades there, said Regina Aufderheide of Edina, a relative.

She doesn’t visit a doctor without being asked whether she is related to him, she said. “I am so proud to say yes,” she said. “Just about every one of them knew him. He was a great teacher and mentor.”

Aufderheide started his medical career as a pathologist at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center and at St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s hospitals in Duluth before turning to academics.

In addition to spending several winters living with and studying an Inuit (Eskimo) community, Aufderheide was part of a North Pole expedition in 1968.

Aufderheide took Jim Brandenburg on one of his Arctic trips, and together they produced 15,000 feet of documentary footage about Inuit culture.

Brandenburg, the now-famed wildlife photographer from Ely, Minn., said Aufderheide was an inspiration.

“I’ve met kings and queens and all kinds of people. But [Aufderheide] was one … of the greatest people I have ever known,” Brandenburg told the New Ulm Journal. “He represented true character.”

Aufderheide was born in New Ulm and studied pre-med at St. Olaf College and pathology at the University of Minnesota medical school in Minneapolis.

In the mid-1970s, Aufderheide  turned his academic pursuits toward the study of diseases in ancient civilizations, thus helping found the discipline of paleopathology.

His studies included the collection of 5,000 tissue samples from mummies up to 9,000 years old from Chile and other countries.

In an interview shortly before his retirement at age 86, Aufderheide said he hoped his development of the study of ancient diseases would ultimately help epidemiologists understand the modern spread of disease.

“Now we can claim it’s a legitimate area of study,” he said in a 2008 University of Minnesota article.

Aufderheide is survived by his wife, Mary, whom he married in 1946; his daughter, Patricia Schwartzman; two sons, Walter and Tom, and three grandsons.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Kirby Student Center Plaza Ballroom on the UMD campus.

 

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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