Museum of Geology and Paleontology of Florence

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Guide to visiting the Museum of Geology and Paleontology

The Museum of Geology and Paleontology is one of the numerous scientific museums found in Florence. Rib of the Natural History Museum of Florence which in turn is part of the museum system of the University of Florence, this museum has one of the most important collections of fossils and rocks in all of Italy. In fact, there are very few museums that can rival the quantity and variety of exhibits owned by this museum. In fact, his collection consists of over 300,000 representative pieces from various eras covering a time span of several million years.

History of the museum

We can say that this museum has two fathers. At the origins of its collections we find the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo who in 1775 sponsored the foundation of the Imperial Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History at the Specola, where the first nucleus of the fossil collection was located. The second decisive contribution to the birth of this museum came from the Florentine scholar Filippo Nesti who in 1845 started the actual collection. Thanks to him, numerous fossil vertebrates were collected, mostly from the Upper Valdarno, which went on to compose a collection that at the time was more unique than rare.

Two centuries of fossil collection are the basis on which the current vast collection of finds of various types including vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, rocks and plants was built.

In addition to Nesti, figures of the caliber of George Cuvier, Igino Cocchi, Antonio Stoppani, Cesare d’Ancona, Carlo De Stefani, Niccolò Stenone, Pier Antonio Micheli, Giovanni Targioni Tozzetti, Giotto Dainelli, Giovanni Merla and Augusto Azzaroli contributed to expanding the collection and to make it known throughout Europe: in a short time the Tuscan collections became very well known in the scientific world of the nineteenth century.

Visit to the Natural History Museum section of geology and paleontology

Organizing according to a prevailing temporal criterion, the museum itinerary accompanies us to the discovery of Italian paleontological history. The visit begins with the stromatolites, sedimentary structures that provide information on the activity of bacteria that lived in the Precambrian, about 3.5 billion years ago.

From the Precambrian we pass to the Paleozoic, about 600 million years ago. Many fossils of invertebrate marine organisms date back to this period, while in the Ordovician (490-440 million years ago) the first vertebrate fish appeared, with an internal skeleton and a sort of shell. This is followed by the Silurian (440-415 million years ago), when the first plants on the soil began to spread. The first amphibians arrived with the Devonian (415-350 million years ago) while the first reptiles, first among the exclusively terrestrial vertebrates, date back to the Carboniferous (350-299 million years ago). The Mesozoic (250-65 million years ago), a period dominated by dinosaurs, saw the appearance of the first mammals that evolve gradually during the Cenozoic (started 65 million years ago).

It is a long journey through time that shows the birth and spread of algae and ferns, the first vertebrates, the first amphibians, reptiles and dinosaurs, up to the mammals.

Museum of Geology and Paleontology of Florence
Museum of Geology and Paleontology (Photo by DaderotCC BY)

What to see in the museum

The geology and paleontology section of the Natural History Museum of Florence preserves and exhibits several pieces of great impact. The most impressive are the skeletons of two mastodons, found in the Valdarno, which date back to the Pleistocene. The first is an Anancus arvernensis, a prehistoric elephant characterized by very long tusks and a robust and stocky build. The second is an Archidiskodon meridionalis, an adult male elephant almost four meters tall that probably weighed 16 tons!

One of the most important pieces is the skeleton of an anthropoid primate Oreopithecus bambolii, a small ape that lived about 8.5 million years ago. Renamed “Sandrone” by its discoverers, this small primate was found in the Baccinello mine in the province of Grosseto.

Also from our territory also comes the Canis etruscus, a species similar to the wolf that lived in Europe in a period between 1.9 and 1.5 million years ago.

Many other artifacts come from many places around the world. There are remains of large American dinosaurs, canids from Asia, Siberian mammoths, African birds and mammals from all over the world.

Section of equidae

The collection of equidae is one of the flagships of the Museum of Geology and Paleontology. A section is dedicated to it in which numerous species that lived in different geological periods from the Eocene to the Pliocene are exhibited. By visiting this section you will be accompanied along the evolution of an entire species from the little Eohippus, who lived 50 million years ago, to the more modern Equus from which the horse and donkey derive.

Fossil invertebrate section

Many other pieces of great historical and scientific value are preserved in the section dedicated to fossil invertebrates. Here there are ancient finds such as trilobites, graptolites, brachiopods, ammonites and molluscs. This section is open by appointment only, so if you want to visit it you will need to book in advance.

Paleobotany section

With over 8000 pieces, the paleobotany collection makes a very important contribution to the reconstruction of the evolution of the plant world.

Hall of the whale

The last room of the museum is the so-called Hall of the Whale. This ultra-modern room owes its name to the fossil skeleton of a whale that lived three million years ago, placed in the center of the space. This room is characterized by an immersive setting that uses multimedia tools that recreate a marine environment in which the visitor is completely immersed.

Information about the museum

The geology and paleontology section of the Natural History Museum of Florence is located in Via Giorgio la Pira, 4. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm.

The full ticket costs 6 euros while the is reduced 3 euros. There is the possibility of purchasing a cumulative ticket which also includes the Anthropology museum and the Botanical Garden. The cumulative ticket costs € 10 full, € 5 reduced and € 23 family.

For more information on the museums of the University Museum System of the University of Florence, I leave you the link to the official website.

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