BOG 2018: TAU Anthropology Research Gets Major Boost

The Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute will open up a unique TAU collection to the international scientific community
27 May 2018
Vlad and Sana Shmunis with TAU President Joseph Klafter. Credit: Chen Galili

A sparkling reception and lecture marked the inauguration of the Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute in the Fabian-Cyril Boisson Auditorium at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. The Institute, which is dedicated to the study of the ancient past, was established by philanthropists Sana and Vlad Shmunis of the United States. The Institute will conduct numerous cutting-edge research projects in anthropology and archaeology on campus, helping to shed light on the origins of humankind.


In his opening remarks, Prof. Israel Hershkovitz, Director of the Institute, said, “Learning from the past is the only way to secure our future. TAU’s collection of ancient artifacts is one of the largest and most impressive anywhere in the world. I am grateful that Vlad and Sana Shmunis are partners in our search for understanding human evolutionary history. It is good for science, for Israel, for medicine and most importantly, it is good for our children.”


The goal of the Institute is to create a singular environment for scientists from diverse disciplines to extract information from prehistoric bones. This information will then be harnessed to shed light on the biology, behavior, culture, society, health and evolution of our ancestors in the region and ultimately to leverage our understanding of the past as a means of forging a more promising future.


A treasure trove

“These are exciting times for anthropology and archaeology studies at Tel Aviv University,” said TAU President Joseph Klafter at the ceremony. “Supporting these fields in Israel and at TAU is special and unique,” Prof. Klafter explained. “First, Israel stands at the crossroads of human evolution as the land link between Africa, Asia and Europe. Second, Israel is a treasure trove for biblical archaeology. Third, TAU is cutting edge in its interdisciplinary approach, studying ancient artifacts by applying DNA analysis and advanced methods from chemistry, physics and engineering. Fourth and finally, this incredible structure we are sitting in, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, will provide the most fitting home possible for Shmunis-supported advanced equipment in specimen analysis. It will become a site for scientific pilgrimages,” he continued.


Dr. Rachel Sarig gives a presentation at the Shmunis Institute inauguration 


Speaking of his and Sana’s reasons for supporting the project, Vlad Shmunis said that TAU’s Biological Anthropology Collection, which comprises 15,000 specimens gathered from throughout the southern Levant over 80 years, “is a treasure that we never knew existed. Our idea was to take this collection, put it online, and enable the team here to expose it both to the world academic community and general public so that they can all learn from it,” he said. 


He continued: “I asked Prof. Klafter, ‘what is your best kept secret at the University?’ and he said, ‘Go through a maze of tunnels until you reach Prof. Hershkovitz’s laboratory, where he keeps his collection on all of humankind.’ Well he was right, and our goal now is to expose the collection and to learn more about it. Who knows what we will find?”


Sana Shmunis added, “We are all very proud that this is all taking part in the great State of Israel. Thank you to TAU and to the State of Israel for making this possible.”


Shmunis family funding has already enabled the purchase of a state-of-the-art Micro CT machine for extracting DNA from ancient bones, as well as other critical equipment needed for advanced research and the creation of a digital data bank that will be accessible to researchers around the world. The Institute is also supporting the biblical archaeology research of TAU’s Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology.


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