Parisian Palaeontology: Visit to Galeries d’Anatomie Comparée et de Paléontologie

It’s no secret that I love natural history museums. The creepier the better. But time doesn’t always allow for trips of leisure so getting to visit a new natural history museum is a pretty big deal for me.

Last week I took a break away from my project and hopped on the Eurostar to Paris. Along with seeing all the typical tourist sights I just couldn’t leave without seeing the Galeries d’Anatomie Comparée et de Paléontologie, one of the four museums that make up the National Museum of Natural History.

Whether you’re a die-hard bones and fossils fan or not at all, this collection is really a sight to behold. As you walk in to the main gallery you’re greeted by what could only be described as an army of skeletons. Each one stares forward, almost menacingly, as you enter and begin to absorb the grandeur of the gallery.

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Entrance to the Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie (unfortunately camera flash was prohibited so I could not do the scene the justice it deserves)
Army of extant animals
Army of animals
Cetaceans towards the back of the gallery
Cetaceans towards the back of the gallery
As viewed from the stairwell balcony
As viewed from the stairwell balcony

Cabinets lining the walls are arranged so elegantly with each specimen identified by a handwritten label. Despite all common names being in French and me not having one word of it, I managed to identify the unfamiliar beasts by their Latin binomials. Although it’s a “dead language”, Latin as it is used in taxonomy is on a par with music notes and maths symbols in its ability to transcend language barriers and be the universal language of biodiversity – something I could dedicate a whole other post to! But for now, back to the bones.

Carnivore skulls in one of the cabinets showing the beautiful handwritten labels
Carnivore skulls
I wonder if these guys were sourced from a restaurant...
I wonder if these guys were sourced from a restaurant…
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Tiny bat skulls and jaws

There’s something for everyone with cabinets dedicated to the breadth of the animal kingdom. My favourite of were the tiny bat skeletons in the photo above. The crania were no bigger than my thumb, and the minute teeth lining the jaws were mesmerising.

The gallery upstairs is filled with extinct animals, from as far back in time as the early tetrapod Eryops to dinosaurs and Pleistocene mammoths. There’s even a Diplodocus guarding the front entrance to the gallery similar to Dippy at the NHM in London! For dino fans there’s also complete Allosaurus and Iguanodon skeletons, alongside Sauropod legs and skulls of a T. rex and a Triceratops. But if you’re more pulled by the recent, there’s Quaternary carnivores, Mastodons, and the giant Irish Elk to admire.

Extinct animals in the upstairs gallery
Extinct animals in the upstairs gallery

Despite dinosaurs being a sure way to draw many children into studies of comparative anatomy, even downstairs among the skeletons kids were falling over themselves with excitement and interest. I could not conceive a more magnificent way to present this branch of science to young minds.

The walls of the uppermost balcony (seen in the picture above) are lined with cabinets containing invertebrate fossils, again wonderfully displayed and labelled. Everything from ammonites to brachiopods and bivalves, but the spectacular preservation of trilobites will always catches my eye. Here, there were so many different species to witness, with some fossilised flat on the substrate like those in the photo below, and others curled up in little balls.

Trilobite fossils
Trilobite fossils

Everything displayed in the galleries just begs to be photographed and the visit really allowed me to combine my passions of palaeontology and photography. With all the more tourist-y attractions ticked off my list I would love to return and visit the remaining three galleries of the National Museum of Natural History, particularly the Grand Gallery of Evolution.

If you ever do find yourself in Paris and fancy a visit, this and the other galleries that make up the Muséum National D’Historie Naturelle can be found at the Botanical Gardens (Jardin des Plantes). Students under 26 years of age are admitted free of charge, otherwise you’ll need to pay into each museum separately. I could not recommend this museum more as a place to spend an hour of two while in Paris. I guarantee you will be blown away by the magnificent array of skeletons no matter what your interest in anatomy or palaeontology may be.

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2 thoughts on “Parisian Palaeontology: Visit to Galeries d’Anatomie Comparée et de Paléontologie

  1. Great set of photos. I really like the close up of the trilobites. Did you see manage to see the gardens? I went in the winter of 2012 so they weren’t in bloom but pictures online look beautiful. Also, did you notice the statues of Lamarck and Buffon? I wrote a little bit about them on my blog about my visit to the museum and the jardin, http://adbscience.com/2013/01/10/jardin-des-plantes/. I really recommend the Grande Gallerie. Not only is the arrangement of models and skeletons cool but the hall as architecture is amazing too. My visit was far too brief!

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    1. I agree, you could spend an entire day there and still only scratch the surface! The gardens are fabulous (I was very lucky to be there during a very hot and sunny day!). Really enjoyed your blog on Lamarck and Buffon, I didn’t manage to take the time to study the statues during my visit – but I suppose now I have yet another excuse to return!

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