I’ve discovered over the past few months that I have a weird affinity for bones — a strange thing, I know, to discover while living in Paris of all places… but hear me out.
My path to self-discovery began in the Catacombs of Paris during our pre-Halloween jaunt through the city’s dark, damp underbelly. It really is a bit morbid if you think about it: paying money to gawk at the ornately-stacked remains of centuries of deceased French citizens. But, it turned out to be one of the biggest highlights of my Fall, mainly because it helped me to connect with history in a tangible way and because it spoke volumes about our fragility and the fleetingness of life.
Plus, it’s just plain cool to see all of those skulls and femurs stacked into patterns like that. It’s art, people.
My journey continued last week when Chris and I visited the National Museum of Natural History (le Muséum national d’histoire naturelle) for the first time. This museum has been around since the 1630s and is now comprised of 14 sites throughout France — 4 of which are located in Paris. We toured both the famous Grande galerie de l’évolution and the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée, and while both were worth the visit, I was particularly struck by the unexpededly beautiful stampede of animal skeletons in the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy.
Now, I realize that this might be someone’s worst nightmare. The first floor of this building is filled with nearly 1000 skeletons (including a few humans), as well as its fair share of withered organs — things that many people would consider gross or creepy or even a little macabre. But, in the name of science, I entered the hall with an open mind.
Bah, who am I kidding. I was geeking out like a weirdo. Most of our tour was me being like, “Oh look, brains!”…
… and Chris being like:
Comparative anatomy by definition is the study of similarities and differences in the anatomy of animal species — that is, bone structure, respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive systems, etc. that can aid in animal classification. I really don’t know much about all that, save for a few random factoids I still carry with me from my high school biology class.
But, as we walked through the menagerie of hippos and buffalo and big cats and even whales, I was instantly taken by the ornateness of it all. Each bone, each perfect combination of collagen and calcium phosphate, piece together to give these creatures their unique shape and enable them to thrive in the environment in which they’re placed. Each bone and joint and organ, however small, serves its own, unique, vital purpose.
Regardless of your views on the evolution of species or how and why certain creatures have certain traits, I think we all can agree: God is a masterful, inventive, and ingenious Creator.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the Gallery of Paleontology, the second floor of the museum and home to a collection of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils. While we didn’t spend a ton of time up here, we enjoyed the dinosaur bones and the hall’s delightfully retro vibe. Seriously, the cut-and-paste, science-fair-esque posters lining the balcony made us laugh out loud. And, I couldn’t get enough of the old-school cataloguing system.
I would recommend the Galerie de paléontologie et d’anatomie comparée, hands down — not just for science buffs or as a last resort on a rainy day. It definitely exceeded my expectations, reinforcing my bone craze and leaving me in awe of just how complex we and the animals with which we share this earth are — all the way down to our most basic, structural components.
“I never knew how much you loved this stuff,” Chris commented shortly after we arrived as he watched me flit excitedly from skeleton to skeleton.
Me neither, friend. Me neither.