Florida’s documented cultural history dates back more than 12,000 years to Native Americans. The first inhabitants were hunters and gatherers whose diets consisted mainly of small animals, plants, nuts and shellfish. They learned to cultivate agriculture and began trade with other native groups in the Southeast. They developed a social organization and built large temple mounds and village complexes.
I recently visited the Florida Museum of History in Tallahassee to learn more about the state’s illustrious past. The Museum proudly presents its new permanent exhibition called Forever Changed: La Florida 1513-1821, in conjunction with Viva Florida 500. Phase 1 exhibits were opened March 3, 2013 and include three interactive galleries and artifacts showing 16th century European presence in Florida.
In the Land of Many Cultures tourists learn about the native peoples shortly before the European arrival. They have a fabulous fossilized Wooly Mammoth, life size diorama, and a recreated Timucuan house. I was attracted by a rare (and gorgeous) ceramic bowl dating from 1350-1500, and a 1593 Astrolabe used for navigation.
The second section called Meeting of the Cultures showcases Spanish explorers such as Hernando de Soto and Tristan de Luna. Stop to hear these historical life size figures tell their stories. Note to parents — kids really like this area.
The third new section, Spanish Exploration, boasts a portion of a 16th-century Spanish ship which everyone can board, plus investigate the dock area. The interactive exhibits, such as knot tying, allow guests to learn about life on the sea, navigation and what items the settlers needed to bring to the new world.
In addition to the Forever Changed exhibits, I found a fabulous collection of sunken treasures and gems discovered from Florida shipwrecks. Made me think of gold doubloons and pieces of eight! I also viewed displays on Florida’s involvement in the Civil War, WWI and WWII.
Personally, my favorite exhibits were the array of kitschy Florida souvenirs spanning many years: an orange shaped tea set, mermaid memorabilia from Weeki-Wachee Springs, early Disney bric-a brac and the artwork on Florida orange crates.
Best of all, there is no entrance fee.