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Skeleton Squadron

September 23, 2010

La Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée, Part 1

The Gallery of Comparative Anatomy, as seen from near the entrance ...

After quite a long hiatus from posts about museum exhibits, this seemed like a good time to get back into the subject. We have visited some strange and wondrous museums in the past few months, but the strangest and most wondrous of all has to be this old museum close to the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris.

... and from above.

The Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée opened for the 1900 Paris world’s fair, as did many other exhibit venues. Although it was built as a new museum, it  was based on fabulous old collections that had been developed in Paris during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is located in a corner of the Jardin des Plantes, which served as a royal garden prior to the French Revolution.

The Jardin des Plantes is overseen by a statue of the famous biologist J.-B.P.A. Lamarck. In the distance is the building that houses the newer Grande Galerie de l'évolution.

This place is an absolute wonder. Paris is often considered as a treasure house because of galleries such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. And of course those are amazing institutions. But this entire museum is itself a work of art, incorporating architecture, sculpture, design, and the natural architecture of skeletons, into an organic whole. It is an irreplaceable treasure, housing specimens many of which are themselves irreplaceable treasures.

 

Entrance side of the Galerie de paléontologie et d'anatomie comparée.

We visited during the peak of this summer’s July heatwave. This may have given us a real period feeling for the building, because of course this museum lacks modern features such as air conditioning in the galleries. We sadly had to curtail our visit due to the heat, which became more intense as we climbed to the palaeontology gallery above this one, but I was able to take many photos. What follow here are images of the lower floor of the museum, the level that is based on the comparative anatomy collections.

If you want to see more of this Paris museum, please see Ghost Giants, about the fossil vertebrates, and Life’s Dusty Attic, about fossil invertebrates.

Over on my Museum blog, there are photos of an exhibit of skulls here.

 

Horses: that's a Percheron in front, with a Thoroughbred behind.

 

A spectacled bear stands in front of some big cats that look ready to pounce. Note the case of primate skulls in the background!

 

The walls are lined with cases filled with skulls, dissections, and all sorts of remarkable anatomical objects ...

... such as these bear brains ...

... and this somewhat gruesome model of a dissected orangutan.

 

These skeletons of a falcon, ibis, and cat were extracted from animals that had been mummified in Egyptian tombs!

 

I had always wondered what a flamingo skeleton must look like, since their legs are so incredibly slender even when cloaked in muscle and skin.

 

Although mammals dominate, other groups of vertebrates are also present, such as the birds and this marvellous collection of reptiles.

 

If you are the squeamish sort, you may want to avert your eyes from the photo below ...

 

These little guys have been looking out into the gallery in their somewhat macabre way for many decades.

The whales, of course, take up a major part of the gallery.

 

Theylook like sculptural objects when viewed from some angles.

The whales, as seen from above

 

This right whale is possibly the most effective exhibit of baleen that I have ever seen.

A cabinet full of dog skulls demonstrates the extent to which some dog breeds have been modified by unnatural selection from the original wolf template.

 

These skulls of spaniels (?) are perhaps typical examples. These look so little like a wolf skull that they could easily be assigned to a different species if we didn't know better.

 

The static exhibit of a human skeleton beside the skeletons of our nearest relatives may demonstrate human evolutionary origins far more forcefully than any website or book.

 

This is a most unusual sculpture for an introduction to a gallery of anatomy and paleontology!


31 Comments leave one →
  1. Angus Taff permalink
    September 23, 2010 8:38 pm

    This is extremely interesting. I am a 10 year old boy who loves museums. After seeing this site, the Paris museum is at the top of my list to visit (one day). Thanks for all the incredible pictures. I would love to see more!

    • Graham permalink*
      September 23, 2010 11:42 pm

      Thank you, Angus. I think you will find it worth the visit – as is nearly everything else in Paris!

  2. September 24, 2010 11:32 am

    Wow, fabulous photos, Graham! I have seen a little bit of this museum in other photos, but your blog gives a sense of how much there really is to see. I would love to go!

    Sounds like you had a great summer.

    • Graham permalink*
      September 24, 2010 11:44 am

      Thank you Holli! I think that Paris has so much that a person should really do a very long visit. I have been a few times, but have not really seen very much of it.

  3. Richard Wade permalink
    September 24, 2010 12:29 pm

    What an amazing place. I must see it. Thank you, Graham. And to Angus, I was a 10-year-old boy who loved museums too, because my parents worked in a major natural history museum. I hope that love and curiosity stays with you your whole life, as it has for me. Now I travel around doing science shows for 10-year-olds, sort of bringing a museum to them.

    • Graham permalink*
      September 24, 2010 1:15 pm

      Thank you Richard. Richard and Angus, I was also that boy. I fell in love with the Natural History Museum when I was lucky enough to spend a year in London at the age of seven. It set me on the museum path, and as a result I have ended up working on the natural history side of a museum, and love it. It is the best possible thing to do.

  4. Marc permalink
    September 24, 2010 2:14 pm

    If we make it to France someday, my wife and I will spend many hours here. Such fantastic photography. Thank you for sharing this with the world.

  5. September 25, 2010 7:33 am

    Beautiful collection. When I visited in 2002 they didn’t allow photography. I guess they changed their policy, and they’re better for it!

  6. Flesticle de la Montaigne permalink
    September 26, 2010 7:23 pm

    I am decouvert et tres flaneur of the exhibites you showing are. These has to me caused the incredible malheureusement for les pauvres animaux the bones of him were to be disturbed and showing so embarrase.

    • Graham permalink*
      September 26, 2010 9:19 pm

      Je suis desoleil au sujet de votre tristesse!

  7. Mike Raath permalink
    November 2, 2010 12:12 pm

    Graham, what memories your site stirred! I first visited this museum in 1970, and was totally blown away. As a recent Zoology graduate at the time I was entranced, and felt that I could almost feel the dust from Georges Cuvier’s time sitting on the skeletons (but I must say they look much cleaner in your pix!). It truly is a marvellous ‘frozen moment in time’, and a wonderful resource for celebrating the power of evolution and the subleties of its infinite adaptations. Vive la France! A bas le ID et le ‘Creation Research’!

    • Graham permalink*
      November 2, 2010 2:58 pm

      Mike, I similarly first visited there in 1990, and at that time they looked as though they hadn’t been dusted since your visit! Yes, they are cleaner now, but the building is otherwise very little changed. I hope to do some more posts about it when I can find some time.

  8. February 14, 2011 7:59 am

    I am sorry to say I missed that museum in Paris when I visited the lovely city. Thanks for letting me see it vicarioulsy.

  9. Paulina permalink
    March 3, 2011 2:05 am

    WOW! just amazing…
    the photos taken, and well no words for the museum, I really want to go there!!!!! (:

  10. Jenna permalink
    March 10, 2011 7:56 am

    I’m sure no one ever thought that we would learn so much just from a bunch of bones. I’m glad that some people don’t find this too gruesome so we can see things like this. I would love to visit this museum someday. Thank you for these pictures.

  11. March 16, 2011 10:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing your photos & commentary. That’s an amazing display of skeletons, and a place I’d love to visit.

  12. Erin permalink
    March 24, 2011 11:22 am

    I had no idea this place existed, and would have gone when I visited Paris had I known! Thank you for posting these pictures…they’re fabulous! If I ever find my way to France again, a trip to this museum will be at the top of my list.

  13. Laura Smith permalink
    March 25, 2011 8:46 pm

    I visited this museum alone while in Paris with some friends (I study Geology however they didnt seem quite so eager as myself to see this place so I went on my own… In my opinion they missed out big time!) Unfortunately my camera battery died just before I got there so thank you so much for the photgraphs! Truely an amazing place and definitely somewhere you can get lost in amazement. If you have any of the paleontology section I would love to see them!
    Thanks again!

    • Graham permalink*
      March 25, 2011 11:25 pm

      Laura, if you have a look at my “regular” page ( http://ancientshore.com/ ), you will see a couple of posts about the paleontology areas. And there will probably still be more to come!

  14. Jamie-Lee Pinnell permalink
    April 8, 2011 8:18 am

    These pictures are amazing! I have taken a few osteology and anatomy courses at the university level and I find these extremely interesting and fascinating. I was just recently in Paris and wish I would have known about this museum then. I am sure I will visit again though, I would even go again just to see this museum! Thank you for this!

  15. Sam permalink
    May 4, 2011 1:55 pm

    I went to this museum about 5 years ago, when me and my mum were lost in Paris. it was the most surreal experience ever. You don’t have a picture, but i remember there being a siamese twin cat skeleton in a jar.
    thats a hard image to get out of your head.
    but im so glad i stumbled upon this site, i can show my mum the pictures.

  16. ctl permalink
    May 27, 2012 8:33 pm

    The two petite dog skulls are a pug (an antique version of the dog, with a less flat face) and king charles spaniel. Here’s a terrifying modern pug. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/79/Pug_skull.jpg

    • Graham permalink*
      May 27, 2012 9:08 pm

      Thank you. That is interesting (and horrible!).

  17. Shaina permalink
    September 13, 2012 11:49 am

    Very neat! I would love to visit this museum some day! The anti-zoo!

  18. Allie Terrill permalink
    March 28, 2014 1:30 pm

    I am totally inspired to go here! Have a trip to Paris planned and this is at the top of the list! Thanks for the great info.

    • Graham permalink*
      March 28, 2014 5:11 pm

      Thank you! I hope you enjoy it.

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