Thursday, July 6, 2017

Florida Museum of Natural History


FLORIDA MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

   

     What an amazing step-back-in-time we had at the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida campus in Gainesville! 

     For over 100 years the staff at the  museum has been building  an archeological collection that is now considered to be the best Southeast attraction of its kind.  It  focuses on the evolution of fossils and animals and the way of life of the Indians when the  Spanish in the 15 hundreds met with them in the land that is now called Florida.      

    A film explained how faculty members found fossils under water in the local lakes and rivers.  Two sections especially drew our attention. 

    The "Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land" starts with fossils from the Eocene period 65 million years ago when Florida was still under water. We followed  the evolution of life forms up to the recent Pleistocene period 14,000 years ago when humans first arrived on the scene. 

    The skeletons of the various animals are 90 percent complete due to the preservative nature of the silt under which they were kept. 

    We saw a range of  the fossil skeleton  remains: cats that no longer exist but looked like big saber tooth tigers, a terror bird that looked like a small T-Rex, a 15-foot tall ground slough, a horse the size of a great Dane and an animal that looked to be a combination of a bear and dog.



Saber tooth tiger like cat hunts an early horse



    Shark Jaw Row took us past shark jaws that ranged in height from two to nine feet and included the jaw of the extinct Megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived.

     Most fossils were found within 100 miles of Gainesville.   Videos at the displays taught us about the  various periods of the area's history.

     The second especially  interesting section, with displays inside and outside the museum,  celebrates the way of life of the Calusa Indians and how they made use of their water-filled environment. Many scenes show realistic life-size figures engaged in various activities.

    We entered a palm-thatched hut and found ourselves in a Calusa leader's home during a ceremony where the chief and his wife were greeting an important visitor.  The setting was 1564 and the characters were based on Spanish records of the period.




A Calusa Leader greets  a visitor in a ceremony in his home



     Panels explained that many of the artifacts in the scene were the result of trading and some came from as far away as Missouri. 

    One scene shows a family outside a hut which is resting on the sea shells the Calusa used to build up the land above sea level to make the area habitable. 




The islands they lived on were often built up by layers of seashells



    Another scene  shows a native outside his Calusa hut in an area filled with birds and sea food available at the time.  Using  a labeled map visitors can become more aware of where various foods and raw materials were available. 

    Given the water world they lived in,  boat building was a common occupation of the Calusa, and in several areas boats were displayed.  

    On a TV scene two scientists discussed how the age of the boats was determined and the kind of wood used.  In one area of Florida the remains of 101 boats were found with ages over a 1,000 years apart.  In 1763 Spain ceded Florida to Britain and the last surviving Calusa were moved to Cuba. 

    Another section has scientists working at their tables studying the DNA of butterflies and other insects to determine who was related to whom and how. 

    The  Butterfly Rainforest exhibit has  over 1,500 species of moths and butterflies and many birds, plants and trees.  At certain times a guide  holds some butterflies close up and tells visitors about  each one in detail before it is released.   

    When visitors stand at the Cultural Plaza,  the museum is bordered on one side by the Phillips Center for the performing arts and on the other side is the Harn Museum of Art.  So eventually we will try to explore these other attractions. 




Calusa tools and weapons




The Terror Bird looks like a small T-Rex

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