Life’s Dusty Attic
La Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée, Part 3
We climb yet another flight of stairs. Up here, the heat of the Paris summer is utterly stifling – it is still and humid, and we are becoming drenched. The age of the museum surrounds us, in the typewritten labels, the paint peeling from the walls, and the dust motes hanging in the sunlight. But it is a treasure house. I feel a bit like I am Howard Carter, entering the tomb of Tutankhamun. There is a sense of discovery, of marvellous objects undisturbed by a century of of change and “progress.”
I have to see it all, drink it in, absorb it through my eyes. There are so many fossils here, and yet there are not enough for me! The family do not share my affliction of paleolunacy, but they accept that there is little they can do about it. They wait patiently in the air-conditioned space near the end staircase, and I am left alone in the heat, to explore the wonderful specimens in solitary revery. Here, a cluster of fossil pectens of unmatched quality and size. There, models of microfossils, hand-carved from limestone in the nineteenth century. Farther along, a huge collection of creatures that lived on some warm Paleozoic reef. This is the attic of life, holding much of the deep and fascinating story.
If you want to see more of this Paris museum, please take a look at Ghost Giants, about the fossil vertebrates, and Skeleton Squadron, about the modern vertebrates.
Eventually even I cannot bear the oppressive warmth of this place, and with regret I leave the fossils in peace. Paris is suffering this July; it is now 11 am, and the attic has become a greenhouse. We head downstairs, back to the bright sunlight and blazing (but not stifling) heat. It is time for a cool drink, in a shady avenue of the Jardin des Plantes.