The police lined us up in the pitch black tunnel. Their headlamps flicked around as they gave their orders in French. We were getting searched.
They went up the line searching my friends. First they were patted down, and then their bags were sifted through. Nothing to worry about, as they had nothing to hide.
I was next. I did have something to worry about. Inside my bag, right near the top, were human bones.
An hour earlier, six hours into our exploration of the closed off section of the Paris catacombs, we were lost. Not lost in the sense that we couldn't find our way out, but rather we couldn't find the main attraction of the catacombs.
Our guide, a twenty something urban explorer that we'd found on the internet, had forgotten his map of the catacombs. Luckily for us his sense of direction was the polar opposite of mine. He guided us through giant cellars, a German bunker, knee high water, and the site of an infamous underground party in the sixties.
It was all incredible, but we wanted to see the bones. Underneath the cemeteries of Paris there are piles and piles of human bones.
"This is the good way!" he called out.
Finally he had found it. We had given up once and were right near the exit, but a sudden stroke of inspiration had reminded him where the bones might be.
Sure enough, he was right. Near the entrance I took care to make sure not to step on the bones. A few feet later that was impossible.
With every step I cracked some poor Frenchman's femur or tibia. It was an incredible site - piles and piles of mud-covered human bones, forgotten under the streets of Paris.
I remembered a movie I had seen a while back where the supervillain had cuff links made from human bone. It seemed so sinister.
With so many bones just piled in mounds, would it be so bad if I took one for myself?
Now totally over the grossness of touching bones, I started digging through the piles trying to find a small one. I wanted a finger, but our guide told us that those had already been taken, along with the skulls.
I finally settled on what looked like the tip of a rib. Then I thought of how my friends might want one and I picked out a vertebrae, another rib chunk, and the ball half of a small ball and socket joint.
I put them in a zip lock bag and shoved the bag on top of my jacket in my backpack.
No one else wanted human bones. Was I weird? It seemed like something that everyone would want to have as a novelty.
We left, but our plans were thwarted.
"The workers have put bricks on the manhole. If I open it they might fall on us. We have to go out the same way we came."
Near the end of our several-kilometer scramble back to the entrance a fellow explorer passed us as we waded through ten inch deep water.
"Bonjour," I said, trying to practice a bit of French.
"That's the police," said our guide, "I've never been caught before."
We were getting arrested and the officer was passing us to make sure we didn't dart back into the tunnels. These were the special catacomb police.
One officer in back and one in front, they escorted us to the surface.
I had my chance to ditch the bones. The officers were focused on searching other people, and I could have easily tossed them amongst the gravel that we were sitting on.
But when would I ever have a chance to get human bones again? So far it's taken me 27 years to get the opportunity.
Maybe I can hide them, I thought.
I was already fairly sure that if they saw the bones I would go to jail. But what if they caught me trying to conceal the bones? That could be very bad.
Hey, at least it will make a good story.
When my turn came, I was scared. Really scared. My hands shook as I unzipped my bag. My friends looked over at me as if to ask if I still had the bones.
I had no plan.
My hat lay over most of the bag of bones, with just a corner sticking out. I'd better start removing stuff before he does.
With my left hand I stuffed the 12"x'12" bag under the hat, and simultaneously lifted it out.
"Just a hat," I said, concealing the zip lock bag.
I quickly moved to the next item.
"My jacket. A water bottle. My camera."
I held the bag open and showed him the inside while still clutching the hat and bag of bones. He groped around for contraband.
"Okay?" I asked
Thank god. I tried to start breathing normally.
Normally when the catacomb police catch you, you get a ticket. But we were Americans, with no incentive to pay the ticket.
"They want to take you to the station. They don't catch a lot of Americans."
The station? Fooling one officer is one thing, but a real search at the station would reveal my treasure.
They started marching us down the train tracks to the police van. One cop was in front of us and a few were in the rear. Todd was speaking in French to the one in the back, trying to build up some rapport.
I needed to move these bones.
I slowed down to distance myself from the front officer and casually unzipped my jacket pocket and took my jacket off, holding on to the open pocket.
I moved my backpack to the front of my body and unzipped it. I put my hat on, revealing the bag of bones. I reached into the bag and grabbed them, stuffed them in the jacket pocket, and then stuffed the jacket into the backpack. At least they weren't glaringly obvious now.
I thought about stuffing them down my pants, but realized that I wasn't comfortable enough yet with my filthy human vertebra for that kind of a move.
They had taken Todd's video camera, so I popped my memory card out of my camera just in case. I slid my hand into my pocket and stuffed the card into my wallet.
When we reached the street they sat us down on the sidewalk.
They took their time discussing what to do and writing tickets for the French people. Behind us was a stone wall separating us from a ravine. I could throw the bones down there and get away scot free.
But it just didn't seem right. I had come so far and doing that would ruin my story, not to mention leave me boneless. So instead I waited.
Finally they gave us a lecture, which was lost to me since it was in French, and told us we could go. No station? I don't know if I've ever felt that relieved in my life.
We stayed around for a moment to thank them, which was just enough time for the police paddy wagon to arrive. An officer jumped out and barked something in French.
"He says not to go anywhere," our French guide said.
So close. We are going to French jail. They are going to find my bones.
The new officers huddled with the old ones, discussing our fate.
"What timing," we whispered.
"Okay, you can go."
Maybe Todd's being friendly with one of the cops saved us. Maybe they just didn't want to deal with us. We walked off quickly, not feeling safe until we were in the car and moving.
And that's how I smuggled human bones past a police search.
Do you realize that the catacombs have recently been closed to the public for this very reason? Because of the utter lack of respect coming from you and others, the catacombs are permanently closed to the rest of us. It's not just grave robbing, which, in itself is pretty despicable, but the selfishness of destroying the opportunity for the rest of us to ever see this historic monument.
Adventuring and sneaking into the catacombs is one thing (which I would approve of and have done myself), but stealing the bones is pretty fucking low. You can't compare what you want done with your own bones to what others would have wanted with their own bones. You don't have the right to determine whether it is disrespectful or not to steal someone else's bones, unless you know for a fact that they would not have minded.
Cool site. Very, very, very uncool story.
But, "Hey, at least it will make a good story."
The catacombs are graves. Special care was taken to move the remains. What you did is just bad, if not worse than digging someone grave up. What a shameless, sick thing to do - desecrating a burial site.
Indeed the Paris catacombs are a cultural site, part of our human history. They are being closed down now because of people like Tynan destroying that history. You can't escape the fact that your actions will have consequences, whether they affect you or not.
I've emailed the Paris police pointing them to this article. Its also a crime to take these bones into the USA, so I wonder if I should let US customs know? Also Tynan doesn't publicise his surname on this blog (hint, it begins with S)
Dude you completely lost me on that one. you think it is OK to not only steal but steal bones? The police are there to protect the site from people like you. You are a talented writer but I won't be back to read anymore.
I am signed up to be cryogenically frozen when I die. If that doesn't happen, I am happy for my bones to be cellected as souveniers, thrown away, or used as kitty litter.
Although I don't subscribe to any religion, I think the act of going to another country and grave-robbing is one of the most despicable things I have ever read.
It's really no wonder America and Americans are hated across the globe.
Indigenous people from many cultures have often adorned themselves with animal bones, teeth etc to display their bravery in battle. To STEAL bones from a grave in another country is weak and pathetic. To be so self indulgent as to write a personal blog about it shows how the human race, thanks in large part to entitled Americans, is quickly devolving.
I have never felt a stronger urge to punch someone in the throat.
I agree. You are a GRAVE ROBBER. Those bones could be somebodies Grandmother. They are the sole mortal remains of a human being, who laughed as a child, and labored far harder than you will ever imagine in your spoiled, protected life. Then they grew old, knew love, and despair, and ultimatly died.
Now you, some ignorant AMERICAN come and rifle them from their centuries old resting place, and talk of making them into jewelry! What will happen when you finally grow up, and realize you don't really want them any more? Will you return them, or will they end up in a landfill?
Someday, hopefully sooner than later, perhaps your remains will meet a similar fate.
Sorry, Tynan, but you are a dork, a smuggler and a thief. Stealing human bones, and wearing them as some of your respondents suggest, is, at the very least, unethical. Think about it for a few minutes.
Life Nomadic is far from over, but today I'm in the US, back in Austin. We've been away from Austin for seven months and have circled the globe entirely. We're already planning more trips, but armed with experience, we don't plan on being on the road for such long stretches in the future.
For me the trip was an epic journey, one that I will remember in great detail for the rest of my life. We could have very easily stayed in Austin and had very little change in my life, but we didn't.
Instead we walked on the canal in Panama. We sat with friends under the cherry blossom trees in Tokyo. We looked out from the tallest building in the world in Taipei. We drove ATVs through the dunes of Qatar. In France we walked through rooms of bones in an unauthorized jaunt through the Paris Catacombs. We ran with the bulls in Spain and lived to tell the story.
"And if you've smoked any weed, had a joint in college, whatever -- tell us the truth! This will not adversely affect you, it's most important to us that you tell us the truth."
There were two officers at the front of the LAPD Reserve Officer Orientation. The Reserve Officer program was unpaid volunteer police work. You'd get a small stipend for equipment, and "intense paramilitary-style training" as they described it.
I was excited to protect and serve. It was 2009, and I didn't have much to do after the financial crash wiped everything out. So, I was becoming a reserve police officer. I was thinking I could help out in detective work, I like figuring things out. Or riot duty.
I liked the orientation, and I filled out the required background application. There were questions to tick off, something like this:
Marijuana .............. Multiple times in last year [ ] Once in last year [ ] Multiple times in lifetime [ ] Once in lifetime [ ] Never [ ]