A Peak into the Past A Florida Museum of Natural History Story by Grant Preston

The Florida Museum of Natural History provides unique insight to one aspect of history some people fail to take notice of. History recounts the true tales of people over the years, but often overlooks the nature surrounding them. In a world of concrete and plastic, the museum captures the essence of the natural world in which we live, as well as the features of it that time has since passed by.

Standing in the jaws of the Megalodon in the Hall of Florida Fossils
Giant Ground Sloth in the Hall of Florida Fossils

[Nature on Display] The Hall of Fossils stuck out to me in particular: specifically regarding the megalodon jaw. Living the life of a Florida native has put me within feet of some of the most tremendous creatures the sea has to offer. Hammerhead sharks, Portuguese Man-of-War jellyfish, and Florida alligators stalking through the dark and murky waters of the Everglades have all crossed my line of sight at one point or another. Further trips away from home have even allowed me the opportunity to see beluga and minke whales in the North Atlantic. These aquatic adventures paled in comparison to setting eyes on the fossils of great behemoths like the megalodon. Framed behind a pane of glass, the museum put me feet from the open jaws of one of the most fearsome predators the world has ever known. The appeal of this exhibit came from its simplicity. Many of the other fossils included complex and contextualizing set pieces. The architects of the megalodon section allowed the teeth to do the talking. Even without its daunting fins and raw muscle, standing in front of jaw large enough to swallow me me whole struck me with as much a sense of fear as it did awe. Fixation on the bones illuminated in the darkness allowed me to visualize the beast in my own mind. Such an image instilled a much more disturbing feeling than any material recreation could hope to achieve. The rest of the exhibit, though less dramatic, allowed me the opportunity to connect with species long since gone. I thoroughly enjoyed standing at arm's length to the real bones of animals that had walked and lived thousands of years before I did. Pictures and recreations cannot inspire the same sense of how old our world truly is.

Hut in The World of the Calusa exhibit
The World of the Calusa exhibit
Canoe from below in The World of the Calusa exhibit

[Nature & Ethics] The modern and technological world we live in has had a measurable effect on the way people view nature. Air conditioning, computers, and even sidewalks have all served in cutting off our connection, and by extension our care for the natural world that exists just outside our four walls. The museum featured a hut of the Calusa, the reapers of the sea, within which I could observe a microcosm of Native American life. Apart from the artistry and design shown by the people, the hut seemed to cut me off from the surrounding exhibits. The people inside with me were silent. They read the plaques and watched the figures, not needing loud noise or special effects to drive home the point so abundantly obvious. These people reached their own personal balance with the natural world, and took from it what they decided they needed. They chose not to manipulate it any more than they felt necessary. Standing inside the hut made me feel more attuned to the idea that there is a spectrum in terms of what luxuries people can and cannot afford. I certainly do not feel as though I fall in line with the Calusa, living purely off of the land. However, standing in what felt like an authentic primitive hut gave me an appreciation for the preservation of the natural world. People have the capacity to continue to expand an urban society of immediate comfort and ease. That does not necessarily mean we should.

Underwater World: Larger than Life exhibit
Underwater World: Larger than Life exhibit

[Nature and the Human Spirit] The presentation of the Underwater World exhibit offered the most interesting take on me and my place in the universe. People never fail to look up, and wonder at the heavens, and what hides out in the vast expanse of space. The mystery of what is above draws a lot of attention. The museum demanded that I wonder instead at what is below. It shrunk me down to level of creatures I previously liked to believe I had seen and understood. It was a surreal experience to walk through a blue-lit hall with light imitating rippling water and fish that I dwarf staring at me as an equal. Staring at me as if begging me to realize that I don't understand. I take my world for granted and look further, while the creatures so much smaller than me populate a universe I know as little about as I do the one beyond my own. The exhibit forced me to consider another spectrum. Size and space encapsulate such a range of things and organisms I will never fully grasp. It was truly humbling.

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