Comparative anatomy allows to compare the anatomical characters of series of species, and thus to compare their forms and structures.
The collection comprises series of whole animals or animal parts preserved in the form of skeletons (around 70,000), in formalin (over 10,000) or as casts. It also includes over 100,000 histological slides (histology is the study of biological tissues). In the Galerie d’Anatomie comparée (Gallery of comparative Anatomy), a selection of four thousand specimens is displayed as series of skeletons and organs, showing to the public the richness of this collection.
Since 2001, the mammal, bird and fish specimens have been integrated into the mammal, bird and ichthyology (study of fish) collections.
The comparative Anatomy collection was put together in the early 19th century by Georges Cuvier to facilitate comparisons between the different structures of the various vertebrate groups. He included many skeletons collected for the King’s Cabinet of natural history by Buffon and Daubenton in the 18th century. The collection was further enriched by many specimens, skeletons and soft parts, from donations and exploration journeys around the world. From the second half of the 19th century to the 20th century, thousands of histological slides were added to the collection.
Functional morphology is the study of relationships between the function of organs and their anatomical characteristics. These studies, carried out in a comparative framework on osteological series, enable us to understand the skeleton’s characteristics according to phylogenetic relationships (phylogenetics being the study of the formation and development of animal and vegetal species) and different life-styles. The collections of anatomical specimens preserved in formalin are also of great help to compare organs and tissues, since they enable to carry out detailed dissections and macro and microscope studies. Ancient specimens and rare species can thus be studied without having to collect new samples from nature.
Palaeontology and archaeozoology research helps us to learn more about the history of Earth and relationships between humans and animals. The osteological collections offer an important comparison tool for researchers in these disciplines. Whether they are derived from palaeontological excavations or archaeological digs, the bones that constitute the research material are identified using reference skeletons for which the species, and often the age and sex, are known.