About the Foundation: Grzybowski Legacy

Learn about the patron our Foundation honours...

Grzybowski is remembered throughout Poland as the "Father of Polish Micropaleontology". As far as we can determine, He is in fact the first University Lecturer to teach a formal full semester course entitled "Micropaleontology" (beginning in 1905 at the Jagiellonian University). His monographs and his extensive collection of microfossils remain to this day the single most important contribution to the taxonomy of cosmopolitan deep-water agglutinated foraminifera.

As a tribute to the one-hundredth anniversary of Grzybowski's pioneering efforts, we have compiled a collection of the taxonomic works of Grzybowski and his contemporaries W. Friedberg and M. Dylazanka in English Translation. These papers contain all the new taxa described from the deep-water sediments of the Polish Carpathians between 1894 and 1923, with reproductions of the original plates, and are accompanied by extensive editorial footnotes. In compiling the book The Origins of Applied Micropalaeontology: The School of Jozef Grzybowski (published in 1993 by the Grzybowski Foundation ISBN: 83-901164-0-5) our primary intentions were the make these classic works available to the modern researcher in a single reference volume.

A thoroughly researched biographical article by S. Czarniecki sets the scene of Grzybowski's studies in the 1890's and early 1900's. A chapter by A. Slaczka discusses the classic localities in the Carpathian flysch in terms of a modern geological setting. The final article by M. Kaminski and S. Geroch documents the type specimens preserved in the Grzybowski Collection in Krakow, and is an original scientific contribution on the current taxonomic status of species described by Grzybowski and his student Maria Dylazanka. Type specimens of foraminifera from the Grzybowski Collection are illustrated in 17 plates. The book is fully indexed.

Introduction & Background

Studies of applied micropalaeontology are tightly linked to subsurface exploration - whether as a purely scientific endeavour as is the case with deep-sea drilling - or as a tool to aid with the search and development of natural resources.

However not every Micropalaeontologist may appreciate the fact that the field of applied micropalaeontology arguably traces its humble beginnings to a post-graduate student from Krakow by the name of Jozef Grzybowski, who in the 1890's took up the study of micro-fossils from borehole muds from the oilfields in the Austrian province of Galicia.

One of the great technological developments of the 19th century was the discovery by two Pharmacists - Ignacy Lukasiewicz and Jan Zeh - of technology that led to the establishment of a new industry based on petroleum. The two scientists worked out a method of distilling crude oil, and in March of 1853 constructed the first kerosine lamp. As early as the 31st of July, 1853 their new lamp was used to illuminate the Public Hospital in Lvov. Their discoveries marked the beginnings of the rapid search for petroleum in the Carpathians - especially in the eastern sector of the mountain chain where deposits rich in oil were discovered. By the 1890's the Krakow daily newspaper "Czas" spoke regularly of new oil discoveries in eastern Galicia.

Geology & Palaeontology at the Jagiellonian University

Jozef Boleslaw Grzybowski commenced his Geological studies at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow in 1891. His advisor was Wladyslaw Szajnocha who had come to Krakow just five years earlier from the University of Vienna, where he earned a doctorate in Palaeontology under Melchior Neumayer. In Krakow, Szajnocha took on the task of organising the University's new Department of Geology. In 1893, Prof. Szajnocha hired Grzybowski as his geological assistant, thus beginning a life-long career of scientific collaboration and friendship. 

Oilfields in Lipinkach - painting of Tadeusz Rybkowski, 1894

From among the varied topics of his paleontological research, Grzybowski is best remembered for his studies of foraminifera. Although the Austrian Geologist Victor Uhlig described a foraminiferal fauna from the Carpathians in 1886, he did not pursue this line of research, but concentrated further efforts on studies of geology and tectonics. Grzybowski's monographs were the first detailed studies of the Carpathian foraminiferal faunas. 

Micropalaeontological Investigations

Grzybowski embarked on his Ph.D. research with deliberate purpose: his goal was to accomplish a series of monographs documenting the foraminiferal fauna of the Carpathians. He began with a study of the Oligocene foraminiferal fauna from Dukla, and spent the next seven years studying the foraminifera of the Carpathians. Grzybowski completed his formal training in Geological Sciences in 1894, and in the same year published his first monograph "The Microfauna of the Carpathian Sandstones from the environs of Dukla" illustrated with five plates of drawings in Grzybowski's own hand. Without delay, Grzybowski undertook the study which became his doctoral dissertation. His "Microfauna of the Carpathians I. Foraminifera of the Red Clays from Wadowice." was completed within a year and submitted to the University examiners in 1895. Two additional monographs documented the foraminifera from the oil fields of Krosno region (1898) and from the Inoceramian beds of Gorlice (1901).

Grzybowski (and his research student Maria Dylazanka) described a total of 127 new species and varieties of foraminifera, and the authorship of an additional 20 species has been later transfered to Grzybowski under Article 21 of the ICZN. His microfossil collection housed at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow is perhaps the single most important reference collection for the taxonomy of "flysch-type" deep-water agglutinated foraminifera. 

Biostratigraphical Results

In the summer of 1894, the 25 year-old Grzybowski presented a talk entitled "Preliminary results of microscopic investigations of drilling muds from the Galician oil fields". The occasion was the "7th meeting of the Association of Polish Naturalists and Physicians" in the city of Lemberg (now Lvov) on the outskirts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ostensibly this was the first time anyone had attempted to use microfossils (foraminifera) as index fossils for subsurface correlation. In this abstract published in Polish-language journal "Kosmos" in 1895, Grzybowski explained how this study came about:

"While I was busy examining that material (i.e. from Dukla and Wadowice), the Counsellor for Mining Affairs Henryk Walter, who at the time was preoccupied with an oil well in Bialobrzegi, brought a few cuttings of dark clays to the Geology Department which were suspected to be from the Menilite shales. As I was searching for fish scales, I noticed on freshly broken surfaces some remains of foraminifera. I asked Mr. Walter to collect material from additional horizons in that well, and foraminifera were found everywhere. Encouraged by these results, Mr. Walter obtained material from other wells, and when these results were positive Mr. Walter and I came up with the idea to undertake a microscopic study of drilling muds. At a meeting of the Mining Council in December of last year, Mr. Walter submitted an application for support of my studies, and the State Department awarded me 100 zlotys on the condition that I begin work and submit my results as soon as possible.
My supervisor Prof. Szajnocha supported this idea wholeheartedly. After working out with him a set of instructions for the mines with regard to sampling and shipping, I set out on a field excursion to Kleczany, Potok, Toroszowka, Bobrka, Wietrzno, Iwonicz, and Klimkowka, in the company of Mr. Walter. Part of the material I collected personally, and at other places I left instructions at the various mines with a request for shipping the material. The Petroleum Society came to my assistance by sending the managers of the mines a request to send me samples.".
Foraminifera As Index Fossils

After preliminary reports dealing with the taxonomy of foraminifera by 1898 Grzybowski had been able to demonstrate that foraminifera can be used to correlate subsurface strata in wells drilled for petroleum exploration. His paper was entitled "Microscopical investigations of borehole muds of oil fields. I. The Potok - Krosno Belt. II. General Remarks". In this paper he explained his methods of using microfauna for correlating strata. He began by listing 106 species of foraminifera from individual exploration wells and outcrops, and pointed out the species that characterize the "known producing horizons".In his abstract, Grzybowski asked the question...

"For a given geological stage, would it not be possible to use foraminifera to distinguish individual layers i.e. in an individual well or in the field, and in so doing provide more precise information for the petroleum industry?"

The material that Grzybowski had at his disposal was enormous - over 1000 sediment samples from 40 wells. His collection from the Krosno region, housed at the Jagiellonian University contains over 4000 vials with microfossils. Grzybowski illustrated his paper with a geologic map, an areal map showing well locations, and geological cross sections, upon which he indicated the occurrence of individual foraminiferal assemblages.
In the cross-section that follows, the names of microfossils are clearly labelled next to the sedimentary horizons. The aim of the study was not to find "oil foraminifera" as some of his contempory critics suggested but:

"to find a firmer basis for the geology of the Carpathians and the oil industry than provided by petrography and stratigraphy alone , and as better preserved paleontological material is lacking, to utilise the microfauna of the Carpathian rocks".

Grzybowski concluded his paper by stating... "We see then, that we can answer the question of whether micropalaeontological studies can provide detailed information for the petroleum industry, whether in a given well or in the field, - and it must be answered in the affirmative. [...] Micropalaeontological studies can provide us with information about the superposition of the beds, and can be used to control the age dating that the drillers records give us, and with further studies will probably be able to furnish more precise information than drilling logs alone."


Unfortunately the news of the discoveries made in the oil fields of Galicia did not spread far beyond the immediate surroundings, and Grzybowski never lived to see his methods and findings adopted by the international scientific community. The bulk of Grzybowski's basic scientific work (such as his taxonomic monographs on foraminifera) was written in an elaborate style of 19th century Polish. Although abstracts of his work were printed in German, and descriptions of his new taxa were translated into English for the Ellis and Messina Catalogue of Foraminifera in the 1940's, the original monographs (which are now extremely difficult to obtain in the originals) were never translated in their entirety from Grzybowski's native Polish. Because of this, Grzybowski's work remained obscure outside the realm of slavic languages. After becoming full Professor in 1908, Grzybowski shifted his interests into other directions, and did not pursue his early work in Micropaleontology. He founded the Paleontological Laboratory of the Jagiellonian University (which survives today as the Department of Paleozoology), set up a geological research station in the town of Boryslaw (now part of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences) and took up studies of Alpine petroleum geology and tectonics. His last research paper, published in Italy just before his death in 1922 was on the structure of overthrusts in the Apennines. 

Grzybowski had already passed away by the time his micropalaeontological methods were rediscovered by Joseph A. Cushman and students in the 1920's, and it is Cushman who is generally remembered as pioneering the use of Micropaleontology for subsurface correlation in the United States. Today the methods that Grzybowski discovered in the 1890's are standard techniques.

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How YOU can help the GF

Become a part of the International Working Group on Foraminiferal Classification, the main goal is to revise the suprageneric classification of the Foraminifera and to compile a complete catalogue of the foraminiferal genera, learn more...