The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at the Israel National Center for Biodiversity Studies of Tel Aviv University is opening on July 2, 2018. The museum building is located in the east of Tel Aviv University campus, opposite the Diaspora Museum gate, and adjacent to the Botanic Gardens. The 9620 sq m five story museum building was designed as a “Treasure Box” or “Noah’s Ark”. This is home to 5.5 million specimens of plants and animals and growing! The museum expects to attract something in the range of 150,000 to 200,000 visitors a year. Upon completion, the Steinhardt Museum will incorporate four existing units at Tel Aviv University: the Zoological Museum, the Biological Anthropology Museum, the National Herbarium and the public education program. The museum chair is Professor Tamar Dayan, a university zoologist. Alon Sapan is the museum director. The museum was designed by Kimmel Eshkolot Architects.
The Ethos of the Steinhardt Museum
The ethos behind the museum is to “inspire acquisition of knowledge, to promote understanding, and to reinforce our bonds with nature and our place within it – for the benefit of future generations”.
Why is Israel so important to natural history?
Israel is the crossroads at which all plants, animals and humans moved from Africa to Europe and Asia. It is the only place in the world where you can see this historical depth. In 10 or 20 years, the Steinhardt Museum will become a major world center for the study of biological systematics, evolution, paleo-ecology and paleo-anthropology. Major discoveries just in Israel alone include the recovery of the world’s oldest homo sapiens fossils outside of Africa: the 90,000-year-old Skhul cave skull (מערת הגדי) and 50,000-60,000-year-old Manot cave skull (מערת מנות). As well, the country is the southernmost location where Neanderthal remains have been uncovered, including the most complete skeleton of its kind “Moshe.” Israel has a very mixed climate. From desert to rainy north, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and surrounded by three continents; it makes for a mix of species and different habitats.
The First Natural History Museum in Israel ?
The university claims that this is the first natural history museum in Israel and in the entire Middle East. To be fair this overlooks its predecessors at Beit Ussishkin in Kibbutz Dan, Beit Shturman in Kibbutz Beit Hashita, Beit Gordon in Kibbutz Degania Alef, Biblical Museum of Natural History in the city of Beit Shemesh, and the Jerusalem Museum of Natural History – but The Steinhardt Museum surely overwhelms all of them – a real state-of-the-art natural history museum that would open the country’s scientific treasures and knowledge to the general public. It has become the largest and most active center in Israel of documentation and science.
The Museum Project Supported by Michael Steinhardt
The $40 million project was supported by former Chairman of the TAU Board of Governors, Michael Steinhardt, and his wife, Judy. The project has received additional major support from government and private charitable sources.
The exhibits are displayed in traditional dioramas, innovative interactive displays, videos, games, touch screens, interactive touch tables, and 60 films on 76 screens. There are also model replicas which allow for a hands-on experience, especially for the sight impaired.
Exhibition space comprises over 1,700 square meters in nine themed exhibitions:
- Bird migration
- Israel’s diversity of ecosystems: This exhibition will feature a show on the role humans have played in shaping the Eastern Mediterranean’s ecosystems “the fastest changing habitat on Earth”.
- Bugs and beyond: The experience culminates in an exhibit of the museum’s only collection of live creatures, the many insects that inhabit our world.
- Life in dark: A sea creatures section mimics the feel of an aquarium, with dark walls reflecting moving images of fish — although Jerusalem’s new aquarium is probably a better bet for that experience.
- Animal shape, structure and functions: There are 3,000 stuffed, taxidermied animals. These include the country’s last bear, a massive specimen that died in 1916, a sleek Asian cheetah who survived until 1911, and the final crocodile, a broad-backed reptile that came from Nahal Taninim, or Crocodile Stream, near the Carmel Coastal Plain. All the animals displayed in the museum died of natural causes, often coming from Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo or the nearby Ramat Gan Safari. A central section of the museum features a giant computerized map showing which animals have become extinct in Israel.
- Human impacts on the environment – The museum places a significant emphasis on anthropogenic climate change and habitat destruction.
- The web of life – An exhibit on human evolution titled “What makes us human?” looks at humanity’s evolution through the lens of cultural accomplishments: the harnessing of fire, innovation of tools, and development of agriculture. The exhibit is situated on the top floor of the museum, allowing any ulta-Orthodox visitors who may find the subject objectionable to easily bypass it.
- The Collections treasure including collections like biological archaeology and history of human biodiversity.
Education and Research
The Steinhardt Museum includes both an education center and a research center focusing on biodiversity research and its varied applications including nature conservation, environmental protection, and agriculture. The museum building will include laboratories and an auditorium and will be used by hundreds of researchers from Israel and abroad.
Info for Visitors
Address: 12 Klausner Street, Tel Aviv
Parking: Paid parking for 620 vehicles
Accessibility: The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History is accessible to the disabled.
- The parking lot includes designated parking spaces for the disabled.
- There are restrooms for the disabled.
- Each of the exhibits have some displays that visitors are permitted to touch.
- The videos in the exhibits are accompanied by subtitles in Hebrew, English and Arabic.
- In the auditorium, the classrooms and the screening rooms, assistive devices for the hearing impaired are available.