The human bone collection is highly varied: over 1000 skeletons, of which 360 jointed, as well as 18,000 skulls, some of which belonged to famous people (Descartes, Saint-Simon, Voigtländer, etc.).
This collection consists of over 2000 cases of bone pathology (acromegaly, rickets, leontiasis ossea, syphilis, breaks and injuries of diverse origins, trepanations, intentional deformations, etc.), 230 anatomical preparations, an exceptional set of skulls and skeletons of known age (including the Portal collection and 140 foetal skeletons), precious ethno-anthropological pieces (engraved and overlaid skulls, shrunken heads or tsantsas from Ecuador, etc.).
The anthropology collection began with the Cabinet du Roi (King’s curiosity cabinet), a part of the Jardin du Roi’ (now the Jardin des Plantes) anatomy and surgery department. At the time, it included anatomical preparations, pieces that exemplified pathologies, and wax models. After the French Revolution, the founding of the MNHN led to a reorganization with more systematic groupings. A number of French pieces were added during the major works undertaken by the Paris Prefect Georges Haussmann (1809-1891) and when cemeteries were moved. Major MNHN expeditions, in addition to bringing back plants and animals, also collected ethnographic artefacts (now at the Quai Branly museum), as well as bone remains unearthed at archaeological sites.
The collection of modern human remains provides a wealth of resources for research in the fields of anthropology, general medicine, oral medicine, human palaeontology and population genetics. The anatomy reference collections constitute a precious resource for physical anthropology research. Anthropobiology has shown, for instance, that the concept of human race, once used to classify variations in the human species, serves no scientific purpose as it introduces artificial discontinuities within human variation, which is continuous. Today, genetic and biometric studies conducted on divers human groups focus on the mechanisms of recent human evolution, the population migrations that led to present-day populations, physical changes in modern humans and issues of growth, nutrition and health.