Ethnobiology is a branch of human science that studies the interrelationship between human societies and their environment from the standpoint of knowledge and know-how. It includes ethnozoology (relationships with the animal world) and ethnobotany (relationships with the plant world).
The Muséum’s specimens, obtained from the members of whichever community is being studied, carry cultural information and testify to local knowledge. They come with field documents: handwritten notes, sketches, photos or films demonstrating the techniques used, and tools.
The principle behind the ethnozoological collections consists of drawing a link between a zoological species and a cultural object: the species used to manufacture a tool, or the species that a tool is meant to obtain.
The collection, which Raymond Pujol started by in the 1960s, includes specimens given to researchers in the human sciences for identification (horn, pelts, animals in preservative fluids, shells, insects, etc.). More recently, collecting is clearly oriented towards artefacts composed of animal matter, for instance feather headdresses, and utensils, weapons and tools used for hunting, fishing and animal husbandry, in particular a major collection of traditional French beehives. Another fine, growing group are the edible insects. The main geographic areas represented, aside from France, are Central Africa, Mexico and Southeast Asia. This collection is constantly being enriched through the fieldwork of our researchers.
These collections, which began in the early 20th century, concern the relationship between human societies and the plant world: botanical specimens, plant matter and objects. They come with rich documentation (archives, field notes, images and specialized publications).
The principle behind the ethnobotanical collections consists in drawing a link between a botanical species and a cultural object, the species used to manufacture a tool, and the species a tool is meant to obtain.
Several major groups constitute the core of these collections, which count roughly 100,000 references.
- Voluminous, historical herbaria assembled by the library’s founders, Auguste Chevalier (until 1956), Roland Portères and Jean-François Leroy. Some concern wild species of domesticated plants (coffee plants in particular);
- Plant groups, both wild and cultivated, gathered in the field and relative to ethnobotanical studies of given societies: Southeast Asia (Haudricourt, Barrau, Friedberg, Macdonald, Revel Coll.), Central Africa (Thomas, de Garine, Bahuchet, Breyne, Peeters Coll.), Peru (collected by Friedberg Coll.);
- Major collections of cultivated plants in the form of herbaria and seeds, bagged or bottled. The largest of these comprises African cereals: sorghum, millet, fonio and African rice, and also includes Asian rice and maize;
- Samples of plant matter (fibres, wood from five continents —20,000 samples—seeds, flours, etc.). The core of this group comes from the various colonial exhibitions of the 19th and 20th centuries;
- A wealth of objects made of plant matter (baskets, gourds, weavings, etc.) as well as traditional tools for collecting and cultivating plants (from France, Africa, Asia and Latin America).
These collections are currently undergoing major restoration including treatment and preparation, a new inventory and catalogue, and the centralizing of data. Scientists are also working to put in place a data information system that associates specimens, objects and audiovisual documentation.