Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt

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Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt
Born September 16, 1685
Died March 25, 1735
Saint Petersburg
Nationality German
Occupation Physician
Known for Exploring Siberia

Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt (Russian: Да́ниэль Го́тлиб Ме́ссершмидт) (September 16, 1685 – March 25, 1735) was a German physician, naturalist and geographer. He was born in Danzig and studied medicine in Jena and Halle, obtained his doctorate degree in the latter in 1713 and settled as a medical doctor in Danzig. In 1716, he came into contact with Russian emperor Peter the Great. By decree of November 5, 1718, Peter gave Messerschmidt the task to ”collect rarities and medicinal plants” from Siberia.

Messerschmidt set out in 1720 on his exploration – the first by a naturalist in this terra incognita, which came to last for seven years. He made numerous observations related to ethnology, zoology and botany and also excavated the first known fossil mammoth remains. Messerschmidt used two simple utensils for collecting data and artefacts, written diary notes and boxes, establishing a tradition for naturalist exploration to last for a century.[1] In Tobolsk, Messerschmidt met the Swedish lieutenant colonel Philip Johan von Strahlenberg, who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Poltava and exiled to Siberia.

Strahlenberg accompanied Messerschmidt during several expeditions and later published some of Messerschmidt’s observations.[2] Messerschmidt explored lands all the way to Argun east of Lake Baikal.[3] The journey, however, exhausted him, and he returned to Saint Petersburg in February 1728. He never became a member of the Academy of Sciences. He died in poverty in 1735.

Cypripedium macranthon, described by Messerschmidt

Messerschmidt’s notes and collections were, to the degree they were preserved, kept at the Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg. Pallas cited extracts of his journey log in his Neue nordischen Beyträge. Only much later, his full journal and excellent maps were published.[4] In his travel journal, he described 149 minerals, 1290 plants of which 359 occurring in Russia only, and more than 260 vertebrates.[3]


  • Han F. Vermeulen: 'Enlightenment and Pietism. D. G. Messerschmidt and the Early Exploration of Siberia'. (=Ch.3). In: Han F. Vermeulen: Before Boas. the genesis of ethnography and ethnology in the German Enlightenment. Lincoln & London, University of Nebraska Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0-8032-5542-5


  1. ^ te Heesen, Anke (2000). "Boxes in Nature". Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A. 31 (3): 381–403. doi:10.1016/S0039-3681(00)00017-0. 
  2. ^ von Strahlenberg, Ph.J. (1730). Das Nord- und Östliche Theil von Europa und Asia. Stockholm. 
  3. ^ a b Egerton, Frank N. (2008). "A History of the Ecological Sciences, Part 27: Naturalists Explore Russia and the North Pacific During the 1700s". Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. 89 (1): 39–60. doi:10.1890/0012-9623(2008)89[39:AHOTES]2.0.CO;2. 
  4. ^ Messerschmidt, D.G. (1962–1977). Forschungsreise durch Sibirien 1720–1727, vol. 1–5, edited by E. Winter and N.A. Figurovskij. Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte Osteuropas. Berlin. ISSN 0079-9114.