Arthur Keith Biography

(Scottish Anatomist and Anthropologist Who Specialized in the Study of Human Evolution)

Birthday: February 5, 1866 (Aquarius)

Born In: Aberdeen, Scotland

Arthur Keith was a distinguished Scottish anatomist and anthropologist who made remarkable contribution in the study of human evolution. Born into a modest family with an agricultural background, he was interested his studies right from the childhood and graduated with a degree in medicine. He was strongly influenced by the works of Charles Darwin and decided to shift his focus to anthropology. According to Arthur Keith, the evolution of the human race was as per the evolutionary harvest of nature. He also shared views with regard to the evolution of human society arising from competition based on patriotism, resentment, revenge, morality, leadership, nationalism and so on. He wrote more than 500 publications in the area of human anatomy and human evolution. In his studies he also described cultural differences as a barrier to interbreeding among groups and introduced concepts like ‘in- group’ and ‘out- group’. Arthur Keith was regarded by many, as the ‘Father of Modern Nationalism’. His findings and ideas were well received in the field of anthropology, and he was knighted for his contributions to science.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In February

Also Known As: Sir Arthur Keith

Died At Age: 88

Born Country: Scotland

Anthropologists British Men

Died on: January 7, 1955

place of death: Downe, England

City: Aberdeen, Scotland

Notable Alumni: University Of Aberdeen

More Facts

education: University Of Aberdeen

awards: Struthers Prize

Childhood & Early Life
Arthur Keith was born on 5 February 1866, to John Keith and Jessie MacPherson, in Aberdeen, Scotland. He was the sixth of their ten children.
As a child, Arthur Keith was influenced by the of naturalist Charles Darwin’s book ‘Origin of Species’ and he decided that he would pursue his career in the field of medical science.
In 1884, he enrolled in the Marischal College of the University of Aberdeen and graduated with a Bachelor degree in Medicine in 1888. While at the university he was guided by renowned botanist James Trail and anatomist John Struthers.
In 1892, he pursued studies in anatomy at the University of Aberdeen and the University College London. While at the University of Aberdeen, he earned his first award ‘Struthers Prize’ for his demonstration of ligaments in humans and other apes.
In 1894, he graduated with an MD degree from the University of Aberdeen for the thesis titled ‘The Myology of the Catarrhini: A Study in Evolution’. The same year he was made a fellow at the Royal College of Surgeons in England.
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Arthur Keith began his career in 1888 after his graduation. He was posted in Siam as a medical officer of a mining company. His initial intention to pursue this job was to collect and study various botanical specimens; however, his interests shifted towards human evolution and anthropology. He worked there for three years after which he went on to continue his studies.
Post his doctorate in medicine and earning a fellowship, in 1895, Arthur Keith was employed as the senior demonstrator of anatomy at the London Hospital, and in 1899, he was elected the Head of Department.
He published his work ‘An Introduction to the Study of Anthropoid Apes’, in 1897. Between 1897 and 1900, he spent time comparing and studying the anatomy of fossil primates and the living and compiled his research. Though it remains unpublished, these studies laid the foundation for his prominent books and contributions in research.
In 1906, Arthur Keith made a remarkable discovery with his student Martin Flack. They discovered the component in the heart that makes it beat, also called the natural pacemaker, the ‘sinoartrial node’.
In 1908, Arthur Keith was chosen to be given the conservatorship of the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons and very soon he was appointed president of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. He held this position for two years between 1912 and 1914. In 1911 his book ‘Ancient Types of Man’ was published.
In 1913, he was made a fellow by the Royal Society and a few years later in 1917 he was elected the Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution that is based in London. He held this post until 1923. It is during his post here that he was knighted in the year 1921.
Arthur Keith was voted as the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1927. In 1930, he was elected as the head of his alma mater, the University of Aberdeen and he held his position for three years.
In 1931, Arthur Keith aided in building a research institute at Kent, a place where Charles Darwin once lived. The following year he was appointed the master of the institute and he continued to work there for the rest of his life.
Major Works
Arthur Keith is well-known in the field of anthropology for his interest in the study of human fossils and evolution of human society. Some of his major works in the field of anthropology are ‘Evolution and Ethics’ (1945) and ‘A New Theory of Human Evolution’ (1947).
He is also known for discovering the ‘sinoartrial node’—the natural pacemaker of the heart that is responsible for the initiation of the heartbeat—with his student Martin Flack in 1906.
Awards & Achievements
He was honored with knighthood by King George, in 1921.
Personal Life & Legacy
Arthur Keith married Celia Gray in 1900.
He died on 7 January 1955 in Kent, England, at the age of 89.

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