On the Town: Tampa Bay History Center explores 'Treasure Seekers'

By Virginia Johnson, Entertainment Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018, 5:37 PM EST

A few of the things you'll learn at the Tampa Bay History Center's latest exhibition:

  1. Pirates were good at math.
  2. They had to fight lice aboard their ships.
  3. Treasure chests are a real thing.

“Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates and Shipwrecks” opens Sunday, Feb. 18. The first expansion since the museum’s 2009 opening, part of an $11 million campaign, is an exploration of those who came to La Florida and how they did it. (On a boat, of course!)

The 8,500-square-foot addition features a replica 18th century ship as its centerpiece, along with artifacts recovered from Florida’s coastal waters.

After you see the navigation section of the exhibition, you’ll feel like you are in a movie. A telescope like the ones captains pulled open and peered through with one eye on the deck of their ship? They have one. Also on display, a sextant and a very special astrolabe--tools used to navigate by the stars.

The astrolabe. (Photo: Virginia Johnson, staff)

“This astrolabe, recovered from a ship wreck in 1622, is one of only 100 astrolabes—at least above sea level — in the whole world,” explained Rodney Kite Powell, the Director of the Touchton Map Library at the Tampa Bay History Center.

Keeping with its focus on interactive displays, the museum’s newly made “old school” navigational tools are on hand for you to find the North Star and compute your very own latitude.

Another exhibition section deals with life aboard the ship. (That's where you'll find the lice comb.)

“Some of these voyages could last a month or maybe longer,” said Kite-Powell.

And yes, yes, yes — there is a section devoted to sunken treasure, both silver and gold, and even a partial wooden treasure chest.

Add to this an interactive theater experience, holograms atop the massive pirate ship, and a new cartography research center, and you have the newest technology to tell the new world’s oldest stories.

The Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education is home to 6,000 maps of Florida and the Caribbean dating back to the 15th century.

“It’s really a very expansive exhibit, not just covering the Tampa Bay Area, but all of Florida and even touching on the Caribbean,” said Kite-Powell.

The new expansion is part of an $11 million capital campaign.