Paleopathologist Aufderheide leaves behind monumental scientific contribution

DULUTH – Dr. Arthur Aufderheide, the world famous paleopathologist who created the world’s only mummified tissue archive, died Friday at the Solvay Hospice House in Duluth at age 90. His impressive career has left behind monumental contributions to the scientific community and was instrumental in development of the paleopathology field.

Extensive career

Aufderheide was born in New Ulm on Sept. 9, 1922, and was raised here. He completed pre-medical studies at St. Olaf College, graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School and did his pathology residency at the University of Minnesota. He completed an internship at Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, New York.

He married International Falls native Mary Buryk in 1946 before serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1947 to 1949.

During the first 25 years of his career, he was head of pathology for the Minneapolis VA Hospital and St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s hospitals in Duluth.

He moved into the academic field when the University of Minnesota-Duluth Medical School opened. He helped create the curriculum for the school. He served as acting dean and head of the pathology department from 1973 to 1974. He taught at the school from 1978 to 2009.

Before his work in paleopathology, he also followed his academic fascination with the Inuit culture and the tribes of Arctic regions. He participated in seven expeditions, including spending several winters with an Inuit family and as a member of the Plaisted Polar Expedition to the North Pole in 1968.

In the early 1970s, he gave famous National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenberg, a Minnesota native, his career start by bringing him along to shoot his self-financed coverage of Arctic culture that produced 15,000 feet of documentary film.

Aufderheide became a major influence in Brandenberg’s life for being a better person. He treasures the wise advice he received from him.

“I’ve met kings and queens and all kinds of people. But, [Aufderheide] was one or two of the greatest people I have ever known,” said Brandenberg, “He represented true character.”

Building a field,

building a legacy

In 1975 at age 55, Aufderheide sought a new and exciting direction for his career by pursuing his fascination with archaeology and anthropology. He decided to combine these interests with his knowledge of diseases. He entered the fledgling field of paleopathology, the study of ancient diseases. The field focuses on how diseases have impacted past civilizations as a way to identify diseases in ancient populations and help modern medicine deal with them.

“When patients die in the hospital, a legacy of medical information is available to us through autopsy,” he said in a 2008 University of Minnesota interview, “It occurred to me that maybe some of it … might still be in mummies.”

Aufderheide had a special focus on working extensively with his wife on paleoepidemiology, the study of disease patterns in ancient populations and how they were distributed among people.

During his work, he established the world’s only mummified tissue archive with more than 5,000 tissue samples. He ultimately visited 20 locations in several countries, with a heavy emphasis in Chile. He studied more than 500 mummies, including one that was approximately 9,000 years old.

According to a UMD official, most samples from Aufderheide’s archive have been returned to archaeological scientists in Chile since his 2008 retirement because most of the samples came from Chilean mummies.

Remembered by

colleagues, friends

UMD Medical School Dean of Regional Campus Gary Davis said in an e-mail that Aufderheide was “a true Renaissance man” who was instrumental in creating the paleopathology field and a legend with the school.

A memorial service for Aufderheide is planned for Saturday, Aug. 24 in the Kirby Student Center Plaza Ballroom on the UMD Campus.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at

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