An alligator snapping turtle specimen collected in 1834 by Charles-Alexandre Lesueur (Courtesy of the Laboratoire des Reptiles et Amphibiens, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris)
New Orleans, La. -
seeing a primitive Louisiana for the first time. You find new varieties of plants and
encounter wild animals different from anything you have ever seen. Drawings show off those fascinating
curator Gilles-Antoine Langlois says, "It was for many purposes. One for
example was to enlarge the knowledge of the new country recently colonized.
Another was to enlarge the collections of the king's garden itself."
been uncovering a variety of old documents and artifacts in the museums of France,
and piecing together those historical clues to show what Louisiana was like
when the first colonists arrived.
says, "We can learn how life was difficult in that time. Difficult because
rivalry between the French and the Indian nations, problems with slavery,
problems with the flooding of the Mississippi River, and problems to find
treatments appropriate to yellow fever, to dysentery."
artifacts have been combined with items in the Historic New Orleans Collection
in an exhibition called "Seeking the Unknown".
The items on display show what Louisiana was like up to 300 years ago --
manuscripts and drawings, plant and animal specimens that were collected here
and sent back to France.
There is an
herbal cure for the poisonous bite of the diamondback rattlesnake. Also, a large alligator snapping turtle –
captured in Louisiana and sent to Paris, where it has survived for nearly 200
years. Curator John Lawrence calls it "an
extraordinary animal… largest freshwater turtle in North America. But this of course was unknown in Europe."
You can see
the curiosities collected by French botanists and explorers, including several
jars of preserved reptiles, salamanders, and ribbon snakes. Also, there are actual plants that were
carefully transported to Paris, where they found a home in the king's garden. Pieces of the two-century-old plants were
stored in French museums.
says, "Especially throughout the 18th century there were great
strides being made in the understanding of the natural world. It's when the Latin
classification systems were developed, some with strong input from French
You can see a
drawing of Native Americans encountered by early colonists, and a very detailed
says, "There is all of the villages of the Indians and there is all of the
paths used by the people."
There is a
fascination with birds, exhibited in a sketch of the skeleton of a Louisiana
brown pelican drawn in the year 1690.
There is an excitement that is preserved in these old manuscripts
written about a new and exotic world.
says, "And then to put yourself in the place of the people writing these
letters, talking about every little thing that they have seen, that they have
witnessed, that they are excited about."
treasures are a link to a time when Louisiana was new, and different, and people
were seeking the unknown.
You can view
the exhibit "Seeking the Unknown - Natural History Observations in Louisiana"
at the Historic New Orleans Collection now through June 2. For more information, go online to http://www.hnoc.org/naturalhistory.
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