Southeastern France Collections


I actually visited three separate collections during my stay in Marseille: the Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Marseille, Muséum d’histoire naturelle d’Aix-en-Provence, and a private collection between the two cities.


The fossils in the Marseille collections were bits of a crocodylian of uncertain affinity called Massialasuchus (including the holotype). One previous analysis places it as near the base of Alligatoroidea. I didn’t see a notch for the 4th dentary tooth, but I was unfortunately only able to get a handful of codings off of it.



Another aspect of these collections that I greatly appreciated was the modern comparative collection (the part I had time to see, at least). I was able to get codings for Osteolaemus sp., Paleosuchus sp., and Crocodylus cf. niloticus. Some of these specimens were old, while others were fairly newly acquired from police who confiscated them from smugglers bringing them across the Mediterranean. Due to the nature of these acquisitions, the exact location is uncertain. There are three species of Osteolaemus and my codings for this one didn’t perfectly fit my advisor’s codings for either of the two original species, which he made before one was split into two. So the current codings may represent a chimaera of species or be the  third species. Figuring this group’s morphology out is his line of work, not mine, but something I’m glad I took note of. Likewise, my Paleosuchus codings didn’t perfectly fit either species as currently coded, so I’ll need to talk that out with him as well. I’m almost certain that the crocodile skulls are Crocodylus niloticus and not the recently split Crocodylus suchus given where the two species live today and how the specimens were acquired.

Osteolaemus, the African dwarf croc

Osteolaemus, the African dwarf croc…with nearly closed supratemporal fenestrae. Weird.

Paleosuchus, the dwarf caiman

A juvenile Paleosuchus, the dwarf caiman

The smallest Nile croc specimen

The smallest Nile croc specimen

And the largest. It was so big that I couldn't fit the articulated skull and jaws in the photo frame with my tripod legs completely extended.

And the largest. It was so big that I couldn’t fit the articulated skull and jaws in the photo frame with my tripod legs completely extended.

The jaws by themselves just barely fit--and only diagonally.

The jaws by themselves just barely fit–and only diagonally.

I’d come up with some ideas for new characters during this trip and was very happy to have a good ontogenetic sequence of crocodylian to test them on. If you only look at a single skull in a couple species, you might have taxic differences or you might be seeing ontogenetic variation. I was able to toss out some of the possible characters and keep others.


The collections in Aix also had a strong comparative collection. I only had a day here, so I didn’t get to sit down and code every species. I took plenty of pictures, though. Their fossil crocodylian material was pretty scrappy. There was supposedly one decent specimen, but someone who was unavailable that day had it in his office. Most of the material there is already being worked on. They had a nice photo station set up for us to use.

A large Chinese alligator. It looks almost as weird as the crazy Field Museum specimen.

A large Chinese alligator. It looks almost as weird as the crazy Field Museum specimen.

There was a weird moment when someone who looked like a big-wig administrator came by briefly and made introductions with my host, but ignored me after a very brief “who are you and what are you doing here?” look down at me. Either sexism, ageism, or both at work there—and none of those options are pretty. I’ve had this sort of thing happen to me a couple times before. If my male companion makes a point to introduce me—or I make a point to force my own introduction when they’re trying to not look in my direction—this type of person suddenly makes eye contact with me and seems thoroughly confused that I’m there. Especially when I contribute something intelligent to the conversation when they’ve either been ignoring my presence or treating me like a student who’s barely started in this field and has no knowledge of it. Frustrates me to no end.


Most journals nowadays (in paleontology, at least) won’t accept publications on specimens held in non-accredited institutions—especially if they’re private collections as opposed to a public institution trying to get accreditation. But this one private collector in south France has two crocodilian holotypes and several other skulls of the same species in his collections. He’s more than willing to have researchers come by to examine them. He’s printed out labels and either made or had someone make support structures and boxes for many of his specimens (he has a decent variety) that look very nice. His fossils are housed in their own room set back in what looks like an above-ground basement. I’m ambivalent about the location… On one hand, it seems to be located in a place that would have less temperature fluctuation than most places in a house without AC, as it’s surrounded by solid concrete walls and has no windows. But on the other hand, I didn’t notice any temperature or humidity controls. It’s probably worse off than some accredited locations, but better off than others. I’ve seen fossils housed in what amounts to a warehouse (which worried their collection managers, but no better options were available to them).

Acynodon, a hylaeochampsid eusuchian

Acynodon, a hylaeochampsid eusuchian

Allodaposuchus, also a hylaeochampsid

Allodaposuchus, also a hylaeochampsid

Closing Thoughts

Well, that was my last post for this trip. It’s become apparent that I have a lot more work to do modifying my advisor’s matrix than I had banked on. Which is going to be a good thing in the long run, but will mean a ton of extra work for me this year. I got to code quite a few species and started making some real headway on adding new characters and characters states. The variety of things I look at on my remaining two international trips won’t be quite so large as on this one, and will instead be focused on building up my sample size for morphometric analyses. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the little-studied Chinese species in late September, though. See you then!