La Musée de Louvre

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I’m not actually into art history per se, but I have some very specific interests that I was hoping to see at the Louvre (Iranian steppe nomads). I couldn’t find any of them on display (they don’t have many artifacts related to them, which is a shame because they have some beautiful Animal Style artwork), but I did see some stuff with similar themes in the section about ancient Iran. I ended up not seeing much of the Louvre because my feet were killing me thanks to the giant blisters that had formed walking through Bois de Boulogne that morning. Otherwise I would’ve gone through the Islamic, Ancient Egyptian, and Greek sections and stopped by their Van Gogh paintings. Stupid new shoes…Why do they always feel better when you try them on in the store?

I bought my ticket beforehand and I highly recommend you do the same. Instead of going through the main entrance–

Crazy big crowd and crazy long wait to get in at the main entrance

Crazy big crowd and crazy long wait to get in at the main entrance

–you can go in a side entrance and skip the crowds and the wait.

The Porte des Lions entrance

The Porte des Lions entrance

All the people in this picture? None of them are going into the Louvre. People were just passing underneath the arch on their way elsewhere. The line to get in was literally (and I mean it in the real sense of the word) nonexistent.

There’s a section on the Americas (and I think Africa was there as well) just inside this entrance. I passed by this little guy on the way to the stairs.

The grumpy face on this Mesoamerican figurine was too cute not to take a picture of

The grumpy face on this Mesoamerican figurine was too cute not to take a picture of

And by the way, the stairs? There are way too many of them in the Louvre. Supposedly it has…I think there were four floors on the map. But in actuality, it was who knows how many sub-floors all randomly attached to one another by staircases going every which way. I kept thinking I’d gotten turned around and was going to a different floor, but nope. Whoever designed the place was just crazy and sadistic.

Here's a  view from inside the main entrance of more of the crowd I avoided

Here’s a view from inside the main entrance of more of the crowd I avoided

Despite not finding what I was looking for, there was still some cool stuff from distantly related and geographically nearby cultures.

Asian griffins are much cooler than European griffins. This one is a Babylonian griffin. Scythian griffins have eagle heads, no horns, and fins down the spines of their necks.

Asian griffins are much cooler than European griffins. This one is a Babylonian? or was it Assyrian? griffin. Scythian (one of the steppe cultures) griffins have eagle heads, no horns, and some have fins down the spines of their necks.

One thing you sometimes see in steppe Animal Art is animals twisted into other shapes–either to fill the space, like in an openwork belt buckle, or to create a sort of meta-animal. Sometimes you see this in nearby cultures as well because they were connected to the steppes via trade routes which carried goods and art back and forth.

Ibexes...or deer?

Steppe Animal Style from a sedentary culture

The above look like deer heads at first glance, but on closer inspection–

UntitledThey’re each actually a pair of ibexes (some with extra dragon or ibex heads popping out of strange places; the above has dragons). The extra heads are actually pretty common too. You often see deer with elaborate antlers ending in griffin heads in steppe artwork.

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La Crypte Archéologique

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I went to Notre Dame, but I didn’t actually go to Notre Dame. I just walked past it on my way to the ruins beneath it. I thought about going inside the cathedral afterwards, but the crowd was just way too big. I did snap a couple quick pictures, though.

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Charlemagne outside the Cathedral. The attendant on his right has an epic mustache.

Charlemagne outside the Cathedral. The attendant on his right has an epic mustache.

The Archeological Crypts of Paris contain remnants of both Roman-era Lutetia (as it was called then) and Medieval-era Paris. And hardly anyone knows they’re there, which means you essentially have the place to yourself as you walk around. I occasionally passed someone or saw them off in a different corner of the place, but I pretty much got to walk around listening to my audio all on my own.

Before you start looking at the ruins themselves, they have text panels and models that tell you about the history of Paris, starting with when it was just a bunch of Parisian (as in the tribe, not in the modern sense of the word) farmers living in a little village.  Then they go through how the city evolved under Roman occupation and eventually during medieval France.

I forgot to take a picture of the label. I think this was Early Medieval Paris.

I forgot to take a picture of the label. I think this was Early Medieval Paris.

It’s amazing how heavily altered the landscape of Paris is. The topography has been changed by humans so much that places that used to be other islands in the Seine are just part of the banks now (only two islands remain now). Part of the ruins down there are actually an old wharf–160 ft (50 m) away from where the riverbank is now. They have a sequence of projections on it and the screen behind it to really help you get a sense of how it used to look.

To the left, the wharfs; to the right, the Seine.

To the left, the wharfs; to the right, the Seine.

They have a 3D recreation of Notre Dame at various stages on touch screens that you can spin around. You should check out the website in the picture. It’s part of an impressive project.

Stage 2 of 3 of Notre Dame's construction

Stage 2 of 3 of Notre Dame’s construction

It’s staggering how much they know about the ruins. Reading the panels and listening to the audio guide, you really got the sense that they had to leave a lot out to keep the attention of most visitors. They were even able to peg one of the buildings down as a specific medieval children’s home that started out great but eventually fell into disrepair with 1/3 of the kids living their dying from various communicable diseases.

The last thing you see on the way out is the remnants of the Roman baths. They were shut down some time after the Romans left because the people who lived there didn’t keep up with maintenance on the aqueducts needed to transport all that water there.

Part of the Roman baths

Part of the Roman baths

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First (okay, Second) Impressions of London

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I’ve been to London once before when I was studying Lystrosaurus for my Master’s, but it was right after a big conference. I was quite tired and pressed for time, so I didn’t get to do any sightseeing while I was here. I just went to and from work. So this’ll be the first time I actually get to experience the city.

  • Wow the Chunnel was underwhelming. Too bad getting a ferry would of been way more expensive and a huge hassle.
  • People who put small, lightweight luggage on the bottom racks of trains–I and everyone else carrying big, heavy luggage hate you.
  • St. Pancras station seems to be full of non-Brits. Less patiently waiting in queues and more standing in my way as I try to navigate the place. I don’t understand people who think it’s okay to stop in choke points to check their things while taking up as much room as possible.
  • The recycling bins here are also enormous.
  • Oh hey, the crosswalks have painted “look lefts” and “look rights” on them. That’s helpful!
  • One of the roads I walked down to get to my hostel changed names three times in half a mile. What.
  • It seems the day starts even later here. Breakfast isn’t ’til 8.
  • This hostel has great, very friendly service and plenty of amenities (a full kitchen and plenty of travel items you can borrow for free!).
  • It also has 6 very tall stories with no lift and I’m on the 6th floor. Luggage=pain.
  • I walked down Tottingham Court Road yesterday. It wasn’t as grimy as I expected. (Kudos if you get the reference.)

The Paleontology Gallery of la Musée d’Histoire Naturelle

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I have a handful of Paris posts still to write. I arrived in London today and will be heading to the Natural History Museum tomorrow to start working.

I didn’t actually get a chance to go through any of the other wings while in Paris, but I did go through the Paleontology gallery after photographing the mounted Diplocynodon there. A lot of these pictures are not going to be the greatest–museum lighting and all.

Arsinotherium is distantly related to elephants, manatees, and hyraxes

Arsinotherium is distantly related to elephants, manatees, and hyraxes

Seriously, Glyptodon? What are you doing with those cheek bones? (Glyptodon is related to armadillos.)

Seriously, Glyptodon? What are you doing with those cheek bones? (Glyptodon is related to armadillos.)

This Pelagosaurus (a species of marine crocodylomorph) has a very cool mount job

This Pelagosaurus (a species of marine crocodylomorph) has a very cool mount job

Metoposaurs are one type of giant amphibian. You can find them in the southwestern US (not alive, obviously)

Metoposaurs are one type of giant amphibian. You can find them in the southwestern US (not alive, obviously)

Lystrosaurus is the genus I did my Master's thesis on. It's very, very distantly related to mammals and survived the biggest mass extinction ever.

Lystrosaurus is the genus I did my Master’s thesis on. It’s very, very distantly related to mammals and survived the biggest mass extinction ever.

Sarcosuchus might be the longest known crocodyliform. It's certainly up there. It's a pholidosaur, which are outside the group alive today.

Sarcosuchus might be the longest known crocodyliform. It’s certainly up there. It’s a pholidosaur, which are outside the group alive today.

All those jokes about T. rex's arms being short and useless should really be about Carnotaurus and its relatives.

All those jokes about T. rex‘s arms being short and useless should really be about Carnotaurus and its relatives.

Mummified mammoth! The eye is glass, though.

Here's its foot

Here’s its foot

Tiny whale legs!

Tiny whale legs!

They belong to Basilosaurus

They belong to Basilosaurus

Remember when I mentioned durophagous dentition in an earlier post? This is a classic example

Remember when I mentioned durophagous dentition in an earlier post? This is a classic example

It belongs to this genus of fish–Leptodus

It belongs to this genus of fish–Leptodus

Bony fish ancestrally had scales coated with enamel. Gars and such still do today. Enamel is the hardest substance in the vertebrate body, so it fossilizes really well.

Bony fish ancestrally had scales coated with enamel. Gars and such still do today. Enamel is the hardest substance in the vertebrate body, so it fossilizes really well.

And outside the gallery was a carousel with extinct animals instead of horses. Sadly, I managed to not get a picture of it. Every time I walked by with my camera, they had it covered.

Well that’s it for tonight. I’m off to bed now. Gotta get up early to go to work tomorrow!

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Paris Collections

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There weren’t many specimens to see here, but they were very informative. And a few of them were amazing. Take this one, for example–it’s a braincase of Diplocynodon ratelli and it is beautiful.

MHN 557 is best braincase

I wish all my fossils had sutures like this

The front of the animal is to the left. The big hole you see is its ear. Below and a little in front of that is a foramen (hole) that a bundle of major nerves goes through. In front of that is the hole where the pituitary gland sits. The knob to the right is where the spine articulates.

One fun thing about working on gators is how gosh darn cute some of ’em are. Take the aforementioned Arambourgia, for example.

21Each of those little blue and white rectangles is 1 cm (2.5 equal 1 inch). This little fella is probably just shy of fully grown. Which means it probably only grew to about 3, 3.5 feet, maybe 4.

I spent my time coding character states for 4 species. Character states are traits we use to tell who’s related to whom. A rough example would be “Horn- short (0) or long (1)”. I managed to have just the right amount of time to get through everything at a comfortable pace. This has been a very productive week. 🙂

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The Catacombs

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My posts are probably going to be delayed a bit. This one comes two days later. I’m only going to be writing them during my downtime. I’m currently waiting for breakfast to open up downstairs so I can grab some tea before I head to work. Early to rise seems to not be a thing in France because breakfast doesn’t start in my hostel until 7:30.

I had half an afternoon to myself once I finally dropped my luggage off at my hostel. I couldn’t check in for a couple more hours, so I wandered over to the nearby Catacombs. They’re quite a popular destination with a limited number of people allowed inside at a time. This was late in the day so there was a line. I stood in it for an hour or so and was lucky enough to be in the last group they let in that day!

The catacombs were originally a limestone mine. The gothic cathedrals of Paris, such as Notre Dame, are all built from limestone mined out of tunnels like this one. I was happy to see that they had panels on the geology once you climbed down the stairs into the tunnels but before seeing the bones. This rock was formed during the Lutetian stage of the Eocene 41.3-47.8 Ma. At the time, this part of France was under a shallow sea. One of the gator species I’m looking at, Arambourgia, lived during this time, but in the south of France, which was still land back then.

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There are a lot of little fossils in the walls of the catacombs (mostly snails), but you can only see them in places where the walls haven’t been reinforced with blocks of what I’m assuming is cement. Occasionally, more spectacular finds were made as they were being dug out. An enormous foot and a half long snail fossil described by Lamarck himself was on display down there! I tried to take a picture, but a security guard started fussing at me in very rapid French. I’m not entirely sure why, because I was following the rules–no touching, no flash–but at one point he said “closing time” in English. I think he just wanted to hurry people along so he could go home for the day. *grump*

One of the people in charge of the workers had a hobby reconstructing buildings from memory.

I spent my time looking for unusual bones. Many of the skulls had holes in them.

Some were obviously postmortem breakage

Some were obviously postmortem breakage

Others had healed edges, which means the purpose survived getting a hole in the head. Probably trepanning.

Others had healed edges, which means the person survived getting a hole in the head. Probably made during trepanning.

And still others had holes which were probably associated with the cause of death.

And still others had holes which were probably associated with the cause of death.

In this one, you can see the frontal sinus which is the bane of many sick people

In this one, you can see the frontal sinus, which is the bane of many sick people

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Most of the bones used to make the…monuments? Is that what you’d call them?…were skulls, femurs, and tibia. All the other bones seem to have been thrown on top or behind the artistically designed walls.

So that was the first day. I’ll post about my collections visit later.

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Mes premières impressions de Paris

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    • I came all the way to France to see a homeless American guy playing a dobro on the subway and singing only slightly better than Bob Dylan?
    • Paris….you need more escalators in your subway system. Hauling 50+ pounds of awkward luggage up and down a myriad stairs is not fun. Thank god for helpful Parisians.
    • Giant recycling bins!
Recycling should be this big a thing in every city.

Recycling should be this big a thing in every city.

  • Is there a major city anywhere in the world one can *not* see Rock Doves in?
  • Balcony gardens are a thing here. It’s nice.
  • What is with your bird naming conventions, Europe? It is not the Blackbird; it is a Common Blackbird. Likewise for Kestrels, Magpies, Swifts, etc… You do not have the only ones in the world! No claiming the whole name for yourself!
  • I am not prepared to translate spoken French in real time. Also my vowels keep switching places in transit from my brain to my mouth. And I keep almost speaking Mandarin.
  • You lied to me, internet. Parisians don’t all dress nicely to go outside. And why does the garbage man have a mullet?!
  • The architecture is nice here.
  • So many ambulances…and they sound like clown cars…
  • I forgot to bring my alarm clock and I can’t turn my phone on while I’m here…crap. I’ll have to go find one tomorrow. For now, I’m going to sleep and trust that I’ll wake up on time.
  • I like how Paris doesn’t seem cramped in spite of the fact that it’s a very old city with European-size streets.

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