Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Visit to Museum of Natural History in Paris, France

If you visit Paris, France then consider a visit to the Muséum National D'Historie Naturelle Jardin Des Plantes Paléontologie et Anatomie Comparée. Anyone interested in fossils or zoology should visit this historic building in Paris, France.

This posting will discuss the Gallery of Paleontology located on the first and second floors. The Gallery of Comparative Anatomy is located on the ground floor. According to their English language brochure, the specimens there allow the study to distinguish and classification of species and groups. It consists of approximately 1,000 mounted skeletons including the rare Norwhal or "sea unicorn" and the living fossil fish coclacanth.

The first level contains the vertebrate fossils from the Cambrian, Mesozoic, Tertiary, and Quaternary Eras.

My visit to the museum was mostly spent on the 2nd level with the invertebrate fossil collection. All of the displays and posters are in French so it was difficult for an English speaker to understand. Fortunately, a lot of the French names are very similar to English or Latin nomenclature. The second level is not a complete floor but an extended balcony that extends around the huge building's perimeter. A skylight encompasses almost the length of the roof that provides natural lighting to the second and first levels. The building was opened in 1898 and designed by architect Ferdinand Dutert.

Invertebrate paleontology was brought to the forefront in the middle 19th century by Alcide d'Orbigny with a collection of 10,000 fossils. This famous naturalist/paleontologist has a coral named after him found in the Louisville area called Hadrophyllum orbigny.

The invertebrate section contains the following groups: Molluscs, Annelides, Bryozoa, Brachiopodes, Corals, Foraminifers, Echinoderms, Insects, Crustaceans, Trilobites, Xiphosura, Arachnids, Ammonites, Cephalopods/Belemnites, Nautiloids, and Gastropods. The collection of cephalopods seemed exceptionally large and appeared to be of special interest to d'Orbigny.

Some of the notable fossils to see were in the coral section. A Siphonophrentis gigantea horn coral fragments from the Chutes de l'Ohio (Falls of the Ohio).

In the First Fossil section, a display case contained 3 billion year old stromatolites from the Africian Sahara. These early life forms were the oxygen and lime producers for our planet allowing more advanced organisms to develop.

Another interesting fossil was of huge dragonfly wings and body part impressions on shale. There were a number of Crawfordsville, Indiana crinoid calyx and stems. It was good to see the number of fossils displayed from Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. It appeared that large sections of their collection came from countries that France was associated with in the past: Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt.

Some fossils seen from this state and surrounding ones: Hallopora dalei (Covington, KY), Amplexopora petasiformia (Cincinnati, OH), Amplexopora filiosa (Cincinnati, OH), Hallopora ramosa (Cincinnati, OH), Bythopora gracilis (Cincinnati, OH), Heterotrypa frondosa (Cincinnati, OH), Constellaria constellata (Newport, KY), Byssonichia radiata (Waynesville, OH), Calymene niagarensis (Ohio), Flexicalymene senaria (Ohio), Pentremites sulcatus (Chester, IL), Pentremites godoni (Monroe, IL), Nucleocrinus verneuili (Columbus, OH), Gilbertsocrinus tuberosus (Crawfordsville, IN), Actinocrinus multiramosus (Indiana), Dizygocrinus indianensis (Crawfordsville, IN), Dichocrinus polydactylus (Crawfordsville, IN), Agaricocrinus splendens (Indiana), Glyptocrinus decadactylus (Cincinnati, OH), Glyptocrinus decadactylus (Waynesville, OH), Platycrinites hemisphaericus (Crawfordsville, IN), Halysites catenularia (Kentucky), Zaphrentis cf. phrygia (Ohio), Streptelasma sp. (Richmond, IN), Phaulactis sp. (Falls of the Ohio), Arachnophyllum striatum (Kentucky), and Streptelasma sp. (Madison, IN).

The blastoid specimens from Illinois reminded me of similar ones found at Sulphur, Indiana.

On the first level, it was good to see a Devonian Period armored fish Dunkleosleus from Ohio. I could not find any Devonian sharks though.

Other notable dinosaurs found there were: Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Diplodocus.

The museum is located in the Jardin Des Plantes found in 5ème arrondissement on the left bank of the Seine river. It is open daily from 10:00 to 17:00 except Tuesdays and May 1. Saturdays, Sundays, and bank holidays from April through the end of September from 10:00 to 18:00. Last admission is 45 minutes before closing. Adult admission is 7 Euros. I would recommend allocating at least two hours to allow you browse all the displays. Visit on the Internet for more information.

It is a great place to visit if your interest lies in this type of science. As a bonus there is a beautiful garden next to the building with a wide variety of flowers to see. In addition, there is also a mineral museum. Compared to some of the other famous sites of Paris: Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame Cathedral, this site is sparsely visited by tourists. I am guessing when I was there maybe 50 people were in the entire building. While the small attendance can make for an easier time to study the displays, it means that not many resources are available for cleaning and maintenance. It seemed like 25% of the fossil display cabinets did not have working illumination lights. One end of the room had just empty display cases. The walls had grime/dust on them where visitors had used their fingers to write names on the wall. These conditions made me sad to see such a grand fossil collection assembled by some of the historic French paleontologists in this state.

Picture of the Jardin Des Plantes next to the museum building.


Anonymous said...

Great post!

Sadly, the problem of neglected fossil displays is not unique to the Paris museum. When I last visited the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), in the 1990s, I was appalled at the state of their displays, especially the invertebrate fossils: labels curled up to the point of being unreadable, light bulbs burned out, specimens unglued from their wall mounts and fallen down to the bottom of the display cases. Even the dinosaur skeletons were neglected. At one point, I was curious about what I took to be some sort of "counter-shading" of the bones, where the tops were a lighter shade of brown than the bottoms--until I realized that it was a uniform layer of dust, about 1/8" thick! Hopefully things have improved...

--Howard (Calgary, AB, Canada)

Fossil Detective said...

I hope that things will improve and interest will grow for invertebrate paleontology.

The Museum of Natural History in Louisville became the Louisville Science Center in the 1990s and its mineral collection has mostly been put in storage. It does have a number of fossils and minerals on display on the 2nd floor though.

The Cincinnati Museum seems to be managing their fossil collection well.

I hope to visit the museums in Indianapolis next and then maybe back to Chicago.

Thanks for the comments.

MansTouch said...

Nice gallery.
Exposure to this kind of museum will educate people about history and make them understand the importance of evolution.
Lifestyles of Paris