Malta – The National Museum of Natural History

Natural history can be defined as being ‘the study of natural objects… the study of plants, animals, and sometimes ancient human civilizations’ (Merriam Webster Dictionary). This encompasses scientific research, but is not limited to it, being an ever-evolving discipline stemming back from the studies of Aristotle and other philosophers in the ancient world, continuing during the Middle Ages, and being further defined with the onset of scientific biology and disciplines such as zoology, palaeontology, botany and geology, amongst others.

In Malta, those interested in learning more about our islands’ origins and local natural history, can visit the National Museum of Natural History located in the old fortified medieval city of Mdina, that is the old capital city of Malta, which is situated in the Northern region of Malta. This museum is to be found within Vilhena Palace, also known as the Magisterial Palace of Justice or Palazzo Pretoria. This is a French-Baroque 18th century building named after Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhen, who originally commissioned it. The Palace was further used as a temporary hospital during a cholera outbreak in the 19th century and converted into a sanatorium by the British military during the 20th century. The sanatorium was closed in 1956, after which the Palace was opened to the public hosting Malta’s National Natural Museum, in 1973.

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The collections exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History include samples of flora and fauna, fossils, rocks, minerals, and dioramas of Maltese habitats. Display areas within the museum cover topics such as Maltese geology and palaeontology, exotic mammals, marine fauna, insects, shells and birds and other topics like human evolution. One hall focuses on the skeletal anatomy of vertebrates, one is dedicated to birds of the Maltese cliff habitat, and one shows the diversity of animals that frequent valleys. Another interesting display highlights the ecological importance of the islands of Filfla, Fungus Rock, St. Paul’s and Comino.

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The national bird; the Blue Rock Thrush (il-Merill), and the national plant of Malta; the Maltese Centaury (Widnet il-Baħar) are focused upon in a special section of the museum. There is also a reference library on natural sciences with over 4,000 titles mainly dedicated to the eighteenth and nineteenth century publications.

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The museum also houses historically important collections with over 10,000 rocks, 3,500 birds, 200 mammals, eggs and nests, over 200 types of fish, thousands of shells and insects from Malta and abroad and a very impressive fossils collection. The current display not only covers insects, birds and habitats but also human evolution and the marine ecosystem.

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Whether you are a local, or a tourist, there are many reasons to visit the National Museum of Natural History. Apart from the educational value inherent in the exhibitions, with interesting features covering various aspects of Maltese wildlife, the impressive Baroque style of the Palace itself is more than enough to make such a visit worthwhile.

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The Museum can be found at: Vilhena Palace, Saint Publius Square, Mdina, and it opens for the public from Monday to Sunday, from 9.00am to 5.00pm.

For more information, please visit – https://www.facebook.com/National-Museum-of-Natural-History-Mdina-MALTA-152354261490652/

This article was written by me and originally published on LivinginMalta.com

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New Article BY MOI – Did Hobbits really Exist??

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It was 2003 when a team of researchers found her – a woman whose bones were 18,000 years old and whose skull was less than one-third the size of our own. This was the woman to be nick-named ‘the Hobbit’, after J. R. R. Tolkien’s renowned book of the same name.

Led by anthropologist Peter Brown and archaeologist Michael Morwood of the Australia’s University of New England, the team was excavating a limestone cave on the remote island of Flores in Indonesia when they discovered a nearly complete skeleton estimated to be about 1.06m (3ft 6inches) tall. The partial skeletons of nine other individuals, all of them less than 1.09 metres in height, were also found.

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The hobbits of Flores created a storm among anthropologists, causing them to question previous assumptions about evolution and human origins, since they could not actually determine whether these humanoids represented a species distinct from ‘modern’ humans, that is, Homo Sapiens, since they seemed to have existed in the world in the same space of time, yet were distinctly different physiologically and anatomically. The ‘hobbits’, or as they are actually called scientifically the ‘Homo Floresiensis’ are remarkable in that even though they had a very small body and brain, they not only could craft and use sophisticated stone implements, which were found in the cave with them, but also lived until relatively recent times – as recently as 12,000 years ago, making them the longest lasting non-modern human species, surviving long past the Neanderthals.

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It is thought that during the most recent glacial period, these Hominids were left isolated on Flores due to high sea levels. This led discoverers to believe that the species or its ancestors could only have reached the isolated island in the first place through water transport, perhaps using bamboo rafts, which would further point out their mental abilities, as well as prompt scientists to believe that they could communicate and had a language, since they obviously needed to cooperate with each other to reach their destination. The isolation of the island is a factor which, many believe, led to the evolution of this different species, if such it is. There exist in fact, a huge number of theories which try to explain this so-far unknown strand of the human evolution tree.

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The ongoing dispute concerns the issue of whether Homo Floresiensis is actually a species in and of itself (like Homo Erectus and Homo Sapiens), or whether the skeletons found belonged to a group of people who were merely suffering from some type of condition or mutated syndrome. Critics of the claim for species status have put forth several hypotheses – one of these for example, states that the limited food supply in such a confined environment could have caused the body of a Homo Erectus group to evolve a smaller body, and therefore suffer from dwarfism. Anatomist Gary Richards on the other hand, introduced a new sceptical theory stating that the unearthed skeletons might have belonged to a group of people suffering from Laron syndrome, which is a genetic disorder causing a short stature and a small skull. There were even those who thought that these traits could be attributed to ‘modern humans’ (that is, Homo Sapiens) with Down Syndrome.

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The main argument of those who support the idea that the Indonesian hobbit is a species in and of itself, mainly describe the fact that the bone structure found in the skeletons’ shoulders, arms and wrists are very different from those which stemmed from the Homo Sapiens, being much more similar to the bone structure of chimpanzees or earlier hominids. This supports the theory that the Flores hobbits were a separate species of early human, stemming perhaps, from the Homo Habilis, rather than a group of Homo Sapiens with a physical disorder.

In 2012, an American film studio was going to release a movie entitled ‘Age of the Hobbits’ which depicted a community of Homo Floresiensis, and was scheduled to be released right after Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’. The studio was embroiled in a lawsuit for copyright infringement, and ordered by court not to use the word ‘hobbit’. The film was instead released under the title ‘Clash of the Empires’.
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—— A version of this article appeared on the online magazine EVE – http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/08/01/did-hobbits-really-exist-in-indonesia/

Three Years – Changes in my Life and the House of Parliament… lol

Three years ago, the Maltese government started building a new House of Parliament in Valletta, our capital city. At the time, I used to work near this new construction and would walk past it twice almost every day. Three years seemed so far away during March 2012, and I used to wonder where I would be when the new House of Parliament was finished in 2015, and what would have changed in my life. It seemed a lifetime away.

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Well, here we are. The new Parliament building is finally ready and it will start being used later on this month. So much has changed in my life since the moment it started to be built! I am not even the same person any more! I look back and marvel at the fact that this has been the most productive, important and evolutionary part of my life, and it happened at the same time as this building was being constructed. I wonder if before I die, I will see its destruction as well.

Morbid thoughts aside, in March 2012 I was still a child. Now, I am an adult I guess, but still with a faerie look about me, if you know what I mean 🙂

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1. I fought my way to freedom and became independent – in other words, I left the parental jail (or ‘that hellhole’, if you prefer even more honesty), and finally started to live on my own.

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2. – I went up the career-ladder – I’ve earned two promotions during the past 3 years. Needless to say, my position at the moment is much better than it was, not to mention my salary.

3. – I found my soul-mate – In March 2012 I was dating someone else, a person who definitely was not my match in many things, and being also aware that we did not actually have a future togather, the relationship was quite pointless. Later on that year however, I met someone whom I was to really click with, and after two years and a half now, we are in the process of buying a place together too. THAT’s a nice jump right!?

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4. I got published! – Although I have not totally abandoned the mentality and fear that once a story/poem is out, your heart has lost it forever, at least now I am writing freelance for a local magazine, as well as for a Polish tourist website. So, no I have not published any books yet, but am slowly getting there… I hope!

5. Self-esteem – All these experiences have led me to become a stronger and more determined person. While before I was more conscious of what other people thought of me, and how society viewed me, I am very happy to say that today I literally could not give a damn. Of course, I appreciate the companionship, advice and thoughts of loved ones, but I am not so gullible, naive, and pliant as I once was. I carry myself proudly and am happy of who I am. And whoever does not like it, can bite me 😀

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