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archetypearchetypus (lat.); Archetypus (ger.)

  • An assumed ideal pattern of the fundamental structure of each great division of organized beings, of which the various species are considered as modifications. (OED 2011)

    There must be some archetype figure existing in nature if we see reason to admit the law of metamorphosis. For what is the original character of that form which suffers metamorphosis: This is the problem to be solved. Without first determining the archetype structure of this figure, all the comparative research must be veiled in mystery, and will continue to be so, forasmuch as the mind passes into an indiscriminate ruin of ideas, originated upon the view of facts of form which point to some original or standard figure, of which they are the products, and yet of which standard for comparison it possesses no defined and fixed idea. It is possible to conclude with reason, from an abstract view of the endoskeleton figures, that those figures are referrible to some standard or typical form, the substance of which, while subjected to the law of metamorphosis, furnishes homologous characters to all those forms produced under the operation of this law. Those forms, so produced, must necessarily be honologous of each other, being the products of the metamorphosed original.

    Maclise, J. (1846). On the nomenclature of anatomy (addressed to Professors Owen and Grant). Lancet (March 14), 298-301: 299.


    This term, archetype, having been first introduced by me in the study of comparative osteology, may require here a word in explanation. When I first applied myself to the study of the law of “unity in variety” which presides over the development of vertebrated skeletons, there appeared to be such a shadowy and ill -defined meaning in the term unity in variety, and the facts of form themselves presented in such a mysterious condition of enchained analogous characters, and at the same time gave such unmistakeable evidences of an enchained specific diversity, the latter encountering the former condition at every step of inquiry, and neither the differences nor the analogies (while contemplated as such under the same regard) holding forth to me any promise of an end to labour and research, that I at length resolved to know (in addition to the self-evident analogy which the facts manifested) whether or not the deferential properties were mainly owing to some law which degraded or proportioned the lesser and special forms from some greater or whole form some integer or full skeletal figure which might be seen as containing in its own quantitative character the sum of all known varieties or species. The comparative method which I adopted to define the existence of such a figure realised my expectation, […] and to this figure I gave the name archetype.

    Maclise, J. (1847-49). Skeleton. In: Todd, R.B. (ed.). Cyclopaedia of Anatomy and Physiology, vol. 4, 622-676: 623.

    ideal pattern or archetype of the vertebrate endoskeleton, as shown in a side view of the series of typical segments or ›vertebrae‹ of which it is composed
    Owen, R. (1848). On the Archetype and Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton: pl. 2, fig. 1; cf. id. (1847). Report on the archetype and homologies of vertebrate skeleton. Rep. 16th Meet. Brit. Assoc. Adv. Sci. 1846, 169-340.
    [archetype:] that ideal original or fundamental pattern on which a natural group of animals or system of organs has been constructed, and to modifications of which the various forms of such animals or organs may be referred

    [Owen, R.] (1856). Archetype. In: Brande, W.T. & Cox, G.W. (eds.). A Dictionary of Science, Literature, and Art, Vol. 1: 146; cf. Rupke, N.A. (1993). Richard Owen’s vertebrate archetype. Isis 84, 231-251: 235.


    An archetype is an idealization with which features of organisms may be homologized by abstract transformations which entail no hypotheses of hierarchic grouping.

    Patterson, C. (1982). Morphological characters and homology. In: Joysey, K.A. & Friday, E.A. (eds.). Problems of Phylogenetic Reconstruction, 21-74: 35.


    archetype The hypothetical ancestral type; the earliest common ancestor; architype; Bauplan; arquetype; praeform; archetypal, archetypic.

    Lincoln, R.J., Boxshall, G.A. & Clark, P.F. (1982). A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics: 20.

Rupke, N.A. (1993). Richard Owen’s vertebrate archetype. Isis 84, 231-251.