, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 9-13
Date: 14 Apr 2012

Evolutionary Theory and the Florence Paleontological Collections

Abstract

Florence has a tradition of Natural Philosophy, and since as early as the sixteenth century fossils were collected by the Granduke. The Museum of Natural History of the University of Florence houses today collections that belonged to Nicolas Steno, when fossils were for the first time used as documents to reconstruct Earth history. Natural philosophers and geologists, both Italian and foreigners, continued to study fossils collected in Tertiary strata of Tuscany until the nineteenth century, when the first speculations on the origin of species were proposed. Charles Darwin himself mentions fossil vertebrates that are today on show in our museum. In the last years, this part of the history of science has been proposed to the public. The aim was to foster an understanding of the centrality of fossils in two cultural revolutions, the discovery of deep time and the birth of evolutionary theory–connected among themselves and with the emergence of geology. Dedicated volumes, public conferences, guided visits to the collections, and field trips to paleontological sites have attracted an attentive and responsive public, showing that the history of science can help deliver modern evolutionary thinking. Other activities aimed at students of all ages have also shown that the interaction between schools, university teachers, and museum personnel is vital to form the mind of future generations on the reality of the evolution of natural systems.