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In memoriam Prof. em. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Beug, 18th January 1932 to 5th March 2022

Hans-Jürgen Beug was born in 1932 in Hamburg, where he graduated from high school in 1951. In the same year he began his studies in biology and applied botany. Soon after, he moved from Hamburg to Göttingen to study botany, chemistry and microbiology.

In 1957 Hans-Jürgen Beug accomplished his doctorate under the supervision of Franz Firbas at the Systematic Botanical Institute of the University of Göttingen with a thesis on the vegetation history of the Fichtelgebirge, Rhön and Harz mountains (Beug 1957). He worked at the institute for about ten years, eight of which as a custodian of the herbarium. After the death of Franz Firbas in 1964, Hans-Jürgen Beug became interim head of the Systematic Geobotanical Institute for two years until Heinz Ellenberg was appointed as its head. During this time, he received his habilitation in botany in 1963 with a thesis on the late and post-glacial vegetation history of the Lake Garda area, Italy (Beug 1964). He became a lecturer in botany at the University of Göttingen until 1967 and performed extensive teaching activities at the institute.

From 1967, Hans-Jürgen Beug lectured at the University of Hohenheim for three years and in 1969 he was called back to Göttingen as professor in vegetation history, being appointed as an extraordinary professor and head of the department of palynology there. From 1972 to 1973 he was Dean of the Faculty of Biology and in 1976–1979 Pro-Rector, Rector and Vice-Rector of the University of Göttingen. From 1985 to 1997, he upgraded the department of palynology into the interdisciplinary Institute for Palynology and Quaternary Sciences, of which he was the director until he retired. In 1991, the institute expanded to include the laboratory for dendrochronology and dendroecology, headed by Hanns Hubert Leuschner. In 1996 the Deutsche Quartärvereinigung DEUQA (German Quaternary Association) honoured Hans-Jürgen Beug’s scientific achievements with the Albrecht Penck Medal. He retired in 1997, which then allowed him time to revisit projects previously left undone such as writing papers, books, the project on Slavs in the middle Elbe region and to compile partly hand-written data sets of his own and of former students as contributions to the PANGAEA database of earth and environmental science.

Hans-Jürgen Beug had a strong influence on palynology both in Germany and worldwide, particularly through his chair in palynology from 1969 to 1997 in Göttingen. One of his main subjects was pollen morphology, the importance of which he emphasized again and again. As a student of Franz Firbas he published the first part of his Leitfaden der Pollenbestimmung (Beug 1961a). He assembled important comparative collections and photographs over the years. His diverse pollen morphological studies were finally completed in 2004 with the publication of the excellent 540 page book Leitfaden der Pollenbestimmung für Mitteleuropa und angrenzende Gebiete (Beug 2004). He was certainly one of the foremost experts on the European pollen flora.

Hans-Jürgen Beug did research on a variety of topics in vegetation history, palaeoecology, palaeoclimatology, settlement history, wetland science and marine palynology. He did pioneering work with his numerous studies in southeastern Europe and Turkey, where he made significant contributions to the pollen flora and the history of vegetation, including glacial refugia and the distribution of European tree species (for example, Beug 1961b; Beug and Bottema 2014). He also conducted numerous studies in southern Germany. We remember many other activities such as his studies of the vegetation history of Tibet (Beug 1987) or about settlement history and especially his famous study on the Early Neolithic at Luttersee, close to the Harz mountains (Beug 1992), and the results of the Elbe Slav project (Beug et al. 2013). Most innovative was his work in marine palynology in collaboration with Michael Sarnthein of the University of Kiel and several others. Hans-Jürgen Beug started an extensive programme of palynological studies on marine sediments off the coast of West Africa (for example Agwu and Beug 1982). More than 90 publications and 100 other publications by collaborators of the institute document his extensive scientific activities and interests.

Hans-Jürgen Beug often did fieldwork in the Sphagnum bogs of the Harz mountains together with his collaborators and students. He passionately studied the development of the mires and woods in the Harz and its foothills, so this region became one of the best-studied areas in Germany and even Europe. The results of these many studies were published in 1999 in a 450 page monograph on the history of the landscape of the Harz (Beug et al. 1999) and on the area between the Harz mountains and the river Weser (Beug 2016).

Together with Eberhard Grüger and Karl-Ernst Behre, he led numerous field excursions and passed on his knowledge to many students in palynology. Many of his students will remember the pollen of the Harz peat bogs as their first study projects. He was able to raise interest in the broad field of palynology that also resulted in numerous theses and about 20 dissertations.

Hans-Jürgen Beug strongly supported the professional careers of his students by obtaining numerous grants for doctoral and postdoctoral studies, thus continuously enlarging his “scientific family”. He also made it possible for scientists from all over the world such as from Taiwan, Chile and Nigeria to visit his institute for study. In addition, he was active in several scientific organizations and institutions. Hans-Jürgen Beug founded the vegetation history working group of the Reinhold-Tüxen Gesellschaft (German-speaking association for vegetation science) and chaired it from its beginning in 1992 and greatly contributed to the collaboration of the German-speaking palynology community through its annual meetings (Fig. 1). From the very beginning of the scientific journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany founded by Karl-Ernst Behre in 1992, he served as Associate Editor, critically reviewing manuscripts and guiding the peer reviewing procedure.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Prof. Hans-Jürgen Beug on an excursion of the Arbeitskreis für Vegetationsgeschichte (vegetation history working group) in 2006 (photo by S. Jahns)

We certainly cannot cover the entire work and life of Hans-Jürgen Beug, but his joy in music should not be forgotten. In addition to science and family, music played a very important part in his life. We still fondly remember the invitations to the house concerts on his birthday, at which he played wonderfully on the virginal which he had made himself from a kit. Another passion was for his journeys to Iceland, where he spent all his holidays together with his wife, always returning with many beautiful rocks, which decorated all round his house. Some of us, Frank Schlütz, Jörg Christiansen and Hermann Behling, were able to visit Hans-Jürgen Beug in January 2022 to congratulate him on his 90th birthday in Göttingen.

We thankfully remember his constant willingness to help with pollen identifications, share his great knowledge and give advice on all scientific problems we were faced with.


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Behling, H., Dupont, L.M., Jahns, S. et al. In memoriam Prof. em. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Beug, 18th January 1932 to 5th March 2022. Veget Hist Archaeobot (2022).

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