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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